• Massive GM Recall Highlights Importance of Civil Justice System
  • April 22, 2014 | Author: Mark P. Chalos
  • Law Firm: Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP - San Francisco Office
  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently told Congress that GM is sorry for the American families whose loved ones were killed or injured by a deadly ignition defect present in millions of GM vehicles. While it is noteworthy that Ms. Barra has now admitted that GM's conduct has caused numerous deaths and injuries, that was not always GM's position. In fact, for many years, in courts across the country and to government regulators, GM denied responsibility for deaths and injuries. And, it denied the existence of the deadly defect entirely.

    But, because of the civil justice system, GM's years of denials were forced to an end.

    In 2010, Ken Melton lost his young daughter Brooke when the ignition switch on her GM Chevrolet Cobalt slipped from the "on" to the "accessory" position while she was driving down a Georgia highway. The ignition slippage disabled the power steering, power brakes, and air bags; Melton's Cobalt careened out of control and crashed.

    Shortly after the wreck, Ken Melton received the call from the hospital saying his daughter had suffered a broken neck and would soon pass away. Mr. Melton knew in his heart what had happened. The vehicle's ignition had failed previously and the Meltons had taken the vehicle to the GM dealer for repairs just days before the wreck. They were assured the problem was fixed. The Meltons had no idea that the real problem was a deadly design defect in the GM ignition system.
    As he kissed his dying daughter in her hospital bed for the last time, Mr. Melton pledged to Brooke that he would bring to justice the wrongdoers who were responsible for her death.

    Seeking answers and accountability, the Melton family filed a civil lawsuit against GM. The Meltons wanted to make sure a senseless tragedy like this never happened to any other family. In response, GM denied that a defect existed and denied responsibility for Brooke's death.

    In 2012, during the lawsuit, an engineer working with the Meltons' legal team discovered that the ignition switches GM was using then were significantly different from the GM factory switch used in Melton's 2005 Cobalt. Faced with this inescapable evidence, during questioning under oath by the Melton's lawyer GM's engineers were forced to admit that before Brooke's wreck, GM knew about the deadly defect. But, at that time, instead of warning Brooke and the millions of families in GM vehicles that their lives could be danger, GM chose secretly to change the ignition switch design for future vehicles to address the slippage problem. And GM decided not to recall and not to fix the millions of vehicles on the road with defective switches, which included Brooke's Cobalt.

    Although it was too late to save Brooke's life, the discovery by the Meltons' legal team set in motion one of the largest recalls - arising from one of the deadliest defects- in automotive history.

    Nationally, however, the civil justice system is under attack. Billion dollar corporations and billionaire industrialists have bankrolled a coordinated effort to gut the civil justice system. Recently, these highly-organized special interests have schemed to:

    • Give immunity to big pharmaceutical companies that make dangerous and defective medical devices and generic drugs that cause harm;

    • Close the courthouse door to consumers who have been harmed by forcing them into arbitration against their will;

    • Support sweeping changes to the procedural rules that apply in federal courts that would reduce and, in some cases, eliminate the rights of families to get answers from wrongdoers; and

    • Destroy the rights of consumers to band together in class actions to fight corporations that have harmed their families.

    The light that the civil justice system and brave families like the Meltons have shined on GM's conduct has saved countless lives. Without a robust civil justice system, the deadly GM defect might have never been made public. A gutted civil justice system that billion dollar corporations and billionaire industrialists are trying to rig would endanger all of our families. We all must fight to preserve our right to a fair and accessible civil justice system.