An article published in Friday’s New York Times brings the issue of General Motors and its massive recalls sharply back into focus. It tells the story of a 27-year-old Virginia woman who died in a car crash only days after receiving a recall notice on her 2006 Saturn. That notice concerned the ignition switch issue that has received so much media attention this year. It is also noteworthy that it was the third issue for which her car had been recalled. It is useful to be reminded that the GM recall story is far from over – but several details buried deep inside the article are points of special concern.
The victim in the crash highlighted by the article died earlier this year. That fact is significant, because even though the defects in GM cars stretch back many years the fatal crashes associated with them have been seen by most people as something that happened several years ago and is only now traceable to the company’s negligence. The article notes that as of this week the mediator administering a fund to compensate victims “had determined that 21 deaths were eligible, raising GM’s longstanding death tally of 13 by more than 50 percent.”
Equally disturbing (though, admittedly, not a new development for anyone who has followed this issue closely) is the paper’s reporting that “during months of outcry over GM’s handling of the (ignition) switch issue, as investigations and lawsuits mounted, the company has fought any effort to get the recalled cars off the road until they are repaired… To date, hundreds of thousands of cars remain on the road, and the automaker continues to maintain that they are safe.”
One might have thought the company would have concluded by now that the potential damage to its bottom line is far outweighed by the risk to public safety and the ongoing damage to its reputation that this issue is causing. The fact that the compensation fund administrator found a 2014 death to be linked to the ignition switch defect is proof of the on-going seriousness of the situation.
As a Portland car crash victims attorney I am glad to see that the compensation fund is moving forward, offering a sense of justice and closure for those whose lives have been irreparably harmed by GM’s conduct. One must ask, however, why it has taken so long for even this small measure of justice to be served. Taking the longer view, the company’s behavior is a powerful reminder of why we continue to need our courts and the justice system more broadly to help ensure that the rich and powerful cannot simply avoid responsibility for actions that place us all at risk.
New York Times: After a G.M. Recall, a Fiery Crash and a Payout