The New York Times reports in a powerful article how several families that lost loved ones to deadly General Motors ignition defects did not get relief even from the civil justice system, often the last recourse for victims of defective products. The Times gives the example of 18-year-old Natasha Weigel’s family members who could not get lawyers to take the case because “the value of her life in a lawsuit seemed too small to justify the expense and risk of litigation.”
Lives Were ‘Not Worth It?’
In Weigel’s case, an inquiry was done. A police investigator found that the car’s airbags had not deployed when it swerved off the road and plowed into trees killing Weigel and another teen in 2006. The investigation found that the car’s ignition switch had powered off seconds before the accident and that GM had already received reports of similar incidents, pointing to a potential defect. But Weigel’s family fell through the legal cracks because of cold, hard numbers.
The maximum recovery for the loss of society in Wisconsin was $350,000 and that wasn’t worth it for the law firm because of the time and expense they would have to put in to fight a heavyweight like GM. The family of the other teen, Amy Radmaker, was also not able to find a lawyer to take the case unless they financed the case themselves.
So far, 42 people are known to have died in crashes linked to the defective ignition switch and both GM and federal safety regulators have been widely criticized for having known about these dangerous vehicle defects, and done nothing about it for more than a decade, putting consumers’ lives in grave danger. Bisnar Chase successfully represented the family of Shara Lynn Towne, who died in the first known GM ignition defect case. We’ve seen first-hand the devastation defective autos can cause in terms of catastrophic injuries and irreparable losses.
State Laws Have Hurt Consumers
Under the guise of tort reform, decades ago, large corporations and insurers have pushed state lawmakers to pass measures that would cap awards for noneconomic damages. They said such caps would prevent people from bringing frivolous lawsuits. Many states have since capped awards for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering and have limited punitive damage awards.
In California, there is a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. These caps, regardless of the type of case, prevent seriously injured victims and their families from getting the justice they deserve – as evidenced in the cases involving GM ignition defects. Our legal system has failed these victims. However, it makes a powerful argument to change state laws so that these injustices do not recur.