Though General Motors admitted that it failed to disclose information about defective ignition switches for a decade, the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy actually protects G.M. from lawsuits filed for accidents that happened prior to that date. As reported in The New York Times, this legal protection allowed G.M. to compensate these accident victims on its own accord, which it has done through a fund set up by the automaker and operated by attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg.
Of the 4,343 death and injury claims that have been filed against G.M., Feinberg has reported that 399 claims have been found to be eligible for compensation. Included in that figure are 128 approved claims for accidents that occurred prior to the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. In all, it is believe that this fund has authorized around $595 million for the 399 eligible claims, though G.M.’s own second-quarter earnings report suggests that the total may be closer to $625 million.
According to a spokesman from G.M., the company elected to take what it described as a “nonadversarial” approach with the compensation fund, and the reports filed by Feinberg show that a number of claims were settled despite substantial evidence indicating that some drivers shared some of the blame for their accidents. To date, these reports show that over 90 percent of offers for compensation were eventually accepted by victims or their families.
For those people who file claims for accidents that occurred prior to G.M.’s bankruptcy, this is may be the best chance they have for recovering compensation for their accidents. Despite that, there are 180 pre-bankruptcy lawsuits that will be heard over a series of trials in New York next year.
United States Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber has said that General Motors could still be held liable for punitive damages associated with the 2014 recall of the company’s defective ignition switches, according to Reuters. This means that it may be possible for victims and their families to recover compensation for any injury, loss of life, or property damage associated with one of GM’s faulty ignition switches. In September, GM reached undisclosed settlements in around 1,300 injury and wrongful death claims.
Though it may now be possible for victims to recover punitive damages from the company, only claims specifically involving the conduct of post-bankruptcy GM will be considered eligible for compensation. As Gerber explained, post-bankruptcy GM cannot be held liable for what pre-bankruptcy GM “‘knew or did’” regarding the faulty ignition switches. In any event, the decision rendered by Gerber may now be applied to each of the individual cases already filed against GM by each of the judges presiding over these cases.
If you or a loved one was injured in an accident involving a faulty GM ignition switch, you should consult with a Tennessee personal injury attorney at Pohl & Berk, LLP, about what legal claim to compensation you may now be eligible to pursue. To speak with a Tennessee personal injury attorney directly, please call our offices at (615) 277-2765 today.
Kenneth Feinberg, General Motors Co,’s lawyer for all cases involving faulty ignition switch claims, may begin considering regulators’ files for relevant accidents. On November 12, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, sent a request to Feinberg suggesting looking for possible switch victims in the regulator files. Ditlow also claimed that Feinberg “should be processing claims faster.”
Feinberg responded to Ditlow, stating “I want to make sure that the notice program and our outreach efforts reach the right people. We are considering Clarence’s suggestions.”
Feinberg, however, disagreed that he was handling claims too slowly. He noted, “we have processed every single claim that has been submitted to us with documentation,” and that they have processed more than 800 requests for payment. Feinberg has received around 1,500 claims since August 1st, and more are expected before the December filing deadline.
There have been 30 reported fatalities linked to GM’s defective ignition switches. GM has already reserved $600 million to pay accident claims, but the number of fatalities has already exceeded GM’s initial estimates. This could indicate that the compensation fund for switch defects may not be enough.
A recent article by Reuters, published on March 23, took a more in-depth look into the GM recall, its ignition defect, and how the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) failed to detect the problem like many others.
The article focuses on retired Wisconsin state trooper Keith Young, who submitted a report in 2006 to the NHTSA regarding a car accident that he stated was caused by an ignition problem. The 2006 St. Croix County, Wisconsin crash, which caused the deaths of 18-year-old Natasha Weigel and 15-year-old Amy Rademaker, and permanently damaged the brain of 19-year-old Megan Ungar-Kerns, had been professionally analyzed by Young, who had a 20-year career as an accident reconstructionist. Young sent his findings to the NHTSA that the ignition had been switched to “accessory” from “run” before the crash occurred, thereby disabling the air bags’ ability to deploy and cutting off the engine.
However, the NHTSA did not act on Young’s observation, and only began investigating GM after the company issued the recall in February. The company is now under scrutiny for this lack of action at the time.
Unfortunately, this defect and many others have caused many people in Tennessee to suffer serious harm or be killed. At Pohl & Berk, LLP, we help victims of such accidents take action against the car manufacturers responsible for the defect. Call us at (615) 277-2765 if you have been involved in an accident caused by a defect and want to learn more about your legal options.