General Motors' controversial ignition switch has been a cause célèbre. Its troubles have sparked major recalls, several government investigations, and a deluge of negative publicity for America's best-selling automaker. The first GM ignition switch lawsuit has already been filed and more are expected to follow.
GM Ignition Switch Recalls
GM installed faulty ignition switches in several of its car models over the last decade. The problem came to light as owners began to complain of their car engines shutting off while driving. Reports of injuries and accidents steadily rose until GM took action.
Beginning in February 2014, GM launched a series of recalls to fix the problem. The company maintains a website specifically devoted to recall information. So far, the company has recalled over two million cars manufactured over the past decade. More recalls are possible as GM continues to investigate the safety and reliability of its ignition switches.
Further controversy surrounds what GM knew and when it knew it. Revelations that the company first became aware of ignition switch problems back in 2001 and rejected a proposal to fix the problem as too costly in 2005 have provoked a public backlash. GM CEO Mary Barra made headlines in April 2014 when she testified before a Congressional committee that despite GM knowing about the problem since 2001, she wasn't informed about it until December 2013.
GM Ignition Switch Lawsuits
American law protects consumers injured by defective products sold in the United States. This potentially applies to everything from entire cars to mere ignition switches. Injured consumers can file product liability lawsuits to enforce their legal rights, recover compensation for their injuries, and hold manufacturers accountable.
Successful plaintiffs may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages from time off work, resulting property damage, emotional pain and suffering, and other losses. In those unfortunate cases where consumers die as a result of a defective product, surviving family members can potentially file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can help families avoid financial hardship following the loss of a loved one.
The first GM ignition switch lawsuit has already been filed, and more are on the horizon. Each product liability lawsuit must allege claims, or legal reasons for holding a defendant accountable for a plaintiff's injuries. While there are many potential claims, plaintiffs are expected to contend that GM defectively designed its ignition switches and failed to warn consumers about the danger. Plaintiffs may also argue that the company breached product warranties by selling cars that were unsafe for consumer use.
Class Action Lawsuits: "Opting In" vs. "Opting Out"
Attorneys have already begun to file class action lawsuits on behalf of injured consumers. Class action lawsuits are normally brought by a small number of plaintiffs on behalf of a larger group of people with similar complaints. Once a court certifies a lawsuit as a class action, these people with similar injuries against the same defendant may "opt in" or "opt out" of a class action lawsuit. The "class" refers to those who are eligible to opt into a class action lawsuit. Any settlement or award that results is distributed among plaintiffs and class members.
Deciding whether to "opt in" or "opt out" of a class action lawsuit is an individual decision. Class actions are best suited for joining together many smaller claims that might not otherwise be pursued on their own. Alternatively, "opting out" of a class action may be best for those whose injuries are more severe or who need more extensive damages. Plaintiffs filing their own suit make their own case and prove their individual damages. In most cases, an individual lawsuit will better compensate them.
Possible Effect of GM's Bankruptcy
GM's ongoing bankruptcy proceedings could potentially affect these lawsuits. Companies in bankruptcy receive protection from their creditors and can rid themselves of debts. This can include court judgments obtained by plaintiffs. In April 2014, GM asked the federal judge presiding over its bankruptcy proceeding to shield the company from liability for ignition switch lawsuits arising before its 2009 bankruptcy. This request is still pending and anyone considering a GM ignition switch lawsuit should follow this potential development.
Get Legal Help with Your GM Ignition Switch Claim Today
While a successful lawsuit can provide plaintiffs and their loved ones with financial compensation, navigating the intricacies of product liability law and class actions can be a difficult task. If you believe you were injured as a result of a faulty GM ignition switch, contact a local products liability attorney and have your claim reviewed today.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.