While we’re all undoubtedly sick and tired of hearing about the General Motors ignition switch scandal, there is still more story to tell; a recent article by the New York Times paints a dismally grim picture of how legislation, expense and private nondisclosure agreements may have protected the faulty part from the hot seat for years.
It’s far too long and winding a story to breakdown in full here, but suffice it to say that many states have, over the past few decades, passed legislation to limit awards in certain types of non-economic legal cases. That includes cases of pain and suffering, punitive damages, and thus, the sorts of cases brought against GM by victims of the faulty ignition switch.
Such legislation was targeted at reducing frivolous lawsuits and excessive awards – i.e. the infamous Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants case of 1994, wherein a woman was awarded nearly $3 million for hot McDonald’s coffee which scalded her in her car. But as a result of so many states passing such legislation, many friends and family members of the deceased failed to find a legal firm willing to represent their case against General Motors.
That combined with out-of-court settlements and nondisclosure agreements between GM and plaintiffs which essentially prevented lawyers from finding any single, common defective cause to all of the ignition switch cases. For instance, when any given victim’s airbags failed to deploy in a crash, there seemed to be many possible causes: faulty sensors, failed deployment mechanisms, etc. The car’s ignition switch may have much sooner been identified as the root of these fatal crashes if more suits had provided enough incentive for lawyers to take them on, and if so much evidence from various cases hadn’t been quelled by GM settlements.
Then, perhaps, many lives would have been spared as a result.