In 2010, the family of a Georgia woman filed a wrongful death action against General Motors (GM) after she was killed in a car accident on her 29th birthday due to a defective ignition switch in her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. This personal injury lawsuit eventually led to the revelation that GM had known for years about the faulty ignition switch and allowed it to remain uncorrected by what GM’s own CEO called “a pattern of incompetence and neglect.” The publicity following the personal injury lawsuit and the discovery that the defective cars had been left on the roads led to thousands of claims being filed against GM, the creation of a $400 million fund for personal injury claims, and the 2014 recall of 2.6 million small cars with defective ignition switches. One family’s personal injury claim for justice resulted in justice for other victims and protection for millions of people traveling our nation’s roads.
The Georgia family’s wrongful death action and the following flurry of similar personal injury claims had a ripple effect on the entire auto industry. With the spotlight turned on the car manufacturers, they began recalling automobiles in record numbers. In fact, in 2014 alone the automakers sent out more than 64 million recall notices in the United States, more than double the amount sent out in the previous record year.
One of the most highly publicized recalls over the last several years has been of cars containing Takata airbags, of which 24 million have been recalled globally since 2008. This faulty airbag recently claimed a victim in Texas. In January, a man who had bought a used vehicle from a dealership was killed by the airbag defect during a minor traffic accident. The victim of this unnecessary tragedy was the father of a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.
Members of the U.S. Congress have proposed a bill that would put more pressure on automakers to correct rather than conceal defects. A U.S. Senate Committee recently approved the bill, labeled the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act, which grants incentives to auto industry whistleblowers to come forward with their knowledge of defective parts in cars on the market. If the bill is approved, whistleblowers would be eligible to receive up to 30 percent of penalties that exceed $1 million tied to any motor vehicle defect, noncompliance or violation of reporting requirements likely to cause risk of death or serious personal injury.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who co-sponsored the legislation, said that the “auto industry needs to be held accountable” and “one way to do that is to encourage insiders to come forward and tell the truth.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. If it passes there, it would be taken up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, which is far from certain, the bill would certainly increase accountability. It would also increase the probability that if a personal injury or wrongful death case was filed in court, if there was a hidden defect, then somebody would come forward and disclose it.
In reality, however, the filing of a personal injury lawsuit or awrongful death lawsuit is what primarily holds the automakers and other manufacturers who are at fault for defective products accountable. If the Georgia family had not filed the case against GM, the faulty ignition switch may never have been discovered. If the defect had remained undetected, the recall may never have occurred and many more people would have died or been seriously injured. In addition, those who had already been injured, and the families of those who were killed, would not have received compensation or justice. So the original personal injury lawsuit and those that followed served several purposes: they held GM accountable for its horrendous failure to protect its customers and the public, they attained just compensation for the victims, and they provided a public service by forcing the recall of defective products.
If you or a loved one are the victim of an accident that caused personal injury or death as a result of a defective part or design in an automobile or any other product, you may be entitled to compensation by the manufacturer, and could also be providing a public service by bringing this defect out into the light of day. Kilgore & Kilgore’s personal injury lawyers are ready to evaluate your situation. Call us today at (214) 969-9099 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free review of the facts of your case with a Dallas personal injury lawyer.
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