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GM may face punitive damages for ignition switch cases

People in North Carolina have likely heard about the massive recall by General Motors for cars that may have faulty ignition switches. Although the company reportedly knew about the problems for more than 10 years, they did not recall the cars or inform consumers until Feb. 2014.

According to reports, the ignition switches, which caused the cars to lose power, the engine to shut off and the air bags not to deploy, resulted in at least 169 deaths and many injuries. A large number of wrongful death cases have been filed against the company across the country.

Complicating the matter is the fact that General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. A federal bankruptcy judge ruled that the knowledge of the faulty ignition switches inherited from working at the company pre-bankruptcy could form the basis of liability. The judge also ruled that people could seek punitive damages, which is a win for plaintiffs. This means GM could potentially face billions of dollars of liability in the filed lawsuits. Punitive damages exceed compensatory damages by a large margin. GM has not responded to requests for comment.

When a company releases a product that has a manufacturing or design defect, they may be held liable to those who are injured under the theory of products liability. Punitive damages are typically only available in egregious cases. In the case of GM, the evidence that the company was aware of the faulty ignition switches for years and did nothing to correct the problem is an example of egregious action. The people who were seriously injured due to this problem may file personal injury lawsuits under the theory of products liability against the company. The families of those who were killed in such accidents may file wrongful death lawsuits against GM, and they may be able to recover damages beyond what is needed to compensate them.

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