Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner
Reports show that General Motors knew that faulty ignition switches were a serious and potentially deadly defect in their automobiles as early as 2004. However, those vehicles were not recalled until February, 2014. The faulty ignition switches shut off without warning, leaving the vehicles with no power steering, brakes or air bags. To date, GM has acknowledged that 12 deaths were caused by this problem, although the Center for Auto Safety estimates that the number of deaths is closer to 300.
As a result of delayed recall, multiple investigations by General Motors and several government agencies are now under-way. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified GM earlier this month about its investigation. Critics are questioning why NHTSA did not initiate investigations many years ago, when the first deaths were reported.
In addition, the Department of Justice will be opening an investigation to determine whether GM is legally liable for the incidents that occurred prior to GM’s bankruptcy because of the late recall. The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will be opening a similar investigation soon. GM’s new CEO is scheduled to testify about the late recall on April 1, 2014. The Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee is also planning a hearing for April 2, 2014 for the purpose of “Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Process.”
Whether General Motors’ bankruptcy and federal bailout in 2009 will prevent any legal responsibility for any incidents before June 1, 2009 is an important issue to resolve. Depending on the results of the criminal investigation, if it is determined that the company defrauded the court by withholding information about the safety defect, GM may be held liable for injuries and deaths from the ignition problems that occurred before the bankruptcy. Experts are divided as to whether the bankruptcy will provide immunity from criminal prosecution.
As I have blogged previously, putting profits above the safety of consumers seems to have become an acceptable part of the business plan for some corporations. Let’s hope this trend reverses as enough people speak out about the dangers of overlooking or minimizing safety.
About the author:
Mr. Zambri is a board-certified civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocates and a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. The association recently named him “Trial Lawyer of the Year” (2011). He has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a “Big Gun” and among the “top 100” lawyers (out of more than 80,000 attorneys) in the entire metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as “one of Washington’s best–most honest and effective lawyers” who specializes in personal injury matters, including automobile accident claims, premises liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and work-accident claims. He has successfully litigated multiple cases against truck and bus companies, the Washington Metropolitan Area transit Authority, and other automobile owners. His law firm, in fact, has obtained the largest settlement ever in a personal injury case involving WMATA. Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” by Best Lawyers (2014 edition) and has been repeatedly named a “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyer magazine (March/April 2013)– national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.