Judge says GM can’t be sued for ig­ni­tion switches is­sues

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VIC­TOR MORTON

A fed­eral judge handed Gen­eral Mo­tors a multi­bil­lion-dollar re­prieve Wed­nes­day, rul­ing that the com­pany could not be sued in hun­dreds of death and in­jury claims re­lated to the de­fec­tive ig­ni­tion switches that are es­ti­mated to have killed more than 80 peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to Judge Robert Ger­ber, GM’s gov­ern­ment-over­seen bank­ruptcy and re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2009 shields it from li­a­bil­ity for ac­tions the com­pany had made pre­vi­ously, de­spite claims by the fam­i­lies of peo­ple in­jured or killed by the ig­ni­tions that GM had been mis­lead­ing the court at that time about the ig­ni­tion switch woes in older, smaller cars.

Lawyers in more than 140 law­suits had ar­gued to Judge Ger­ber, who also han­dled the com­pany’s bank­ruptcy, that GM’s mis­lead­ing the court ef­fec­tively meant their clients never got a chance to dis­pute the bank­ruptcy on those grounds and now are left with no re­course.

One plain­tiff’s at­tor­ney told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the rul­ing kneecaps a po­ten­tial $7 bil­lion to $10 bil­lion in li­a­bil­ity judg­ments.

“Hun­dreds of vic­tims and their fam­i­lies will go to bed tonight for­ever de­prived of jus­tice,” said Robert Hil­liard, who rep­re­sents mul­ti­ple wrong­ful death and in­jury plain­tiffs against GM.

“GM, bathing in bil­lions, may now turn its back on the dead and in­jured, wor­ryfree,” he said.

“The new GM,” which emerged from bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion in July 2009, con­tended that it had ac­quired “old GM” as­sets “free and clear” of li­a­bil­i­ties be­fore the bank­ruptcy.

Judge Ger­ber wrote in his 138-page opin­ion that while dozens of peo­ple at GM knew about the ig­ni­tion switch prob­lem and chose to con­ceal it from the public and not is­sue a re­call as the judge said the law re­quired, there was no such mis­con­duct by GM’s bank­ruptcy at­tor­neys.

“New GM” is still li­able for crashes that took place af­ter July 2009.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how the ac­ci­dent, fa­tal­ity and in­jury num­bers broke down pre-bank­ruptcy and post­bankruptcy, but CNN re­ported that most of the ve­hi­cles with the faulty switches — which can slip out of the run po­si­tion and cause sud­den stalling — were built by “old GM.”

“Judge Ger­ber prop­erly con­cluded that claims based on Old GM’s con­duct are barred,” the au­tomaker said in a state­ment.

How­ever, Judge Ger­ber ruled that “new GM” could still be sued by other plain­tiffs claim­ing the ig­ni­tion woes hurt the value of their cars, though he re­it­er­ated that “new GM” is only re­spon­si­ble for ac­tions taken af­ter July 2009.

Those de­pre­ci­a­tion law­suits have the po­ten­tial to be costly, how­ever.

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