GM May Face Punitive Damages in Ignition Lawsuits

Beginning in February of 2014, General Motors recalled approximately 30 million cars worldwide due to issues with their ignitions. The alleged faulty design of the ignitions would enable a vehicle’s engine to turn off while the car was moving, thereby preventing airbags from deploying if the vehicle was involved in a collision. Claims made against GM state that officials with the automobile company knew of potential issues with the ignition for more than 10 years prior to the initial wave of the recall yet they failed to take action to correct the issue on existing models or to prevent its implementation in future vehicles.

Due to these ignition issues, General Motors has confirmed 124 associated deaths though some claim the number is much higher. Federal investigators reviewed the issues surrounding GM’s faulty ignitions which led to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement whereby GM would pay $900 million to settle the claims against it to the United States Government. However, this agreement did nothing to resolve claims related to the ignitions brought by those who felt the impact the most – the victims who were injured in car accidents and the surviving family members of those who lost their lives in collisions.

In September of 2015, GM agreed to settle a shareholder suit in the amount of $575 million which would settle 1,380 civil cases brought by victims of ignition-related accidents, but even with those cases resolved, hundreds remain to be litigated and/or settled with as many victims still seeking compensation. However, a recent ruling by a bankruptcy judge could lead to greater financial exposure on the part of GM and potentially bigger recoveries for those with pending claims.

In 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy and later emerged as a new entity. Due to these bankruptcy proceedings and the fact that some ignition-related issues allegedly pre-date the bankruptcy, a judge was asked to determine whether punitive damages, or damages designed to punish and deter bad behavior, could be available to victims who were hurt in collisions. That judge recently concluded that punitive damages were possible in some cases but that they must be limited to the conduct that the new GM exercised and based on the new GM’s knowledge, that is the entity that exists after the bankruptcy and still today.

This decision means that victims who have been suffering as the result of GM’s conduct may be entitled to full compensation for their damages and for their losses which they would not have incurred had GM designed a fully functioning ignition system.

If you were involved in a car accident in Chicago and you were operating a General Motors vehicle with airbags that failed to deploy, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your damages. To help you understand your legal rights, the law firm of Abels & Annes, P.C. offers a no-cost, no-obligation case consultation to those who contact us online, call us toll free at (855) 529-2442, or call us locally at (312) 924-7575. We understand that you may need help outside of normal business hours so we keep a licensed attorney standing by to speak with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At Abels & Annes, P.C., we only handle cases on behalf of injured victims and we never represent insurance companies. If a crash has left you in need of help or has you wondering about whether you can make a claim for your losses, call us today and let one of our licensed lawyers help you understand your options for relief.

Prior Blog Entry:

Jimmy John’s: Risking Chicago’s Safety with “Freaky Fast” Delivery?, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published November 16, 2015.


Judge Rules Punitive Damages Possible for GM in Ignition Case, by Jessica Dye, Insurance Journal, published November 10, 2015.


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