American auto manufacturer General Motors (GM) knew for years that its vehicles were deadly. Officials were aware that the ignition could suddenly disengage mid-ride, causing the power to cut to the engine, resulting in system failure of airbags and power steering. They knew people were dying and being seriously injured, and they also knew that all they needed to fix this problem was a $2 repair.
But for years, they kept it quiet. They concealed it. When lawsuits were filed, they quietly settled them out-of-court in confidential agreements, hoping to limit public knowledge of the issue. In all, at least 124 people died as a result of the defect. One was convicted of a felony after she was faulted for a crash later attributed to the defect. Others have been maimed forever.
It wasn’t until a new CEO took over that the issue was pushed into the daylight. Recalls were issued. More lawsuits were filed. The CEO apologized to the public, to the families. She fired a number of those connected with the alleged cover-up. She set aside a fund to pay further settlements to victims.
Now, the U.S. Department of Justice, which had filed criminal charges against the auto giant, has agreed to a deferred prosecution settlement agreement for $900 million. No one goes to jail. No individual executives will stand trial. The company has to pay out the money to the victims. They also have to hire a compliance expert to ensure they are following all federal rules and regulations. If they do this and abide by all other laws for the next three years, the charges will be wiped from the company’s record.
Many families of those who died are not happy. The $900 million figure sounds high, but it’s actually 25 percent less than what Toyota had to pay out last year. Survivors say it seems as if the company is simply buying itself – and its former executives and supervisors – out of jail.
Federal prosecutors have countered that there were valid reasons why this punishment wasn’t as harsh as Toyota’s, which involved another deadly vehicle defect.
In the Toyota case, prosecutors said, the company dragged its feet through the entire process. It took four years, whereas the settlement with GM was reached in 18 months. Further, the problems came to light because the new CEO brought them to light (though we would argue it was only a matter of time before the issue became public). And the prosecutors pointed to the company’s willingness to cooperate and act with the victims’ best interests.
But our car accident lawyers are with the families here. Just because another company fought harder to avoid accountability when they were caught doesn’t mean GM’s actions over the course of a decade were any less egregious or that those responsible for concealing this information shouldn’t be held accountable.
The DOJ has said it is still possible criminal charges could be filed, and we hope that is true and there is ample evidence to substantiate those claims.
Typically, criminal justice and civil redress aren’t combined in a single action like this. These cases are special because of their nature and scope. That’s why even if the company or person who caused your injuries is being prosecuted in criminal court, you need to consult with an experienced injury lawyer.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
$900 Million Penalty for G.M.’s Deadly Defect Leaves Many Cold, Sept. 17, 2015, By Danielle Ivory and Bill Vlasic, The New York Times
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Frazier v. Drake – Sudden Emergency and Unavoidable Accident, Sept. 12, 2015, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog