Kyle Johnson
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New York Times: GM Threatened Families of Accident Victims

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In at least two instances, GM threatened families with countersuits to their "frivilous" lawsuits related to deaths.

Expanded GM recall: Chevy Cobalt

The Chevy Cobalt is one of the vehicles affected by a faulty ignition switch. The defect was a contributing factor in at least a dozen deaths.

The GM ignition switch recall seems to reach new levels of absurdity every week, and one of the things that continually gets lost in the persistent crush of information about what General Motors may or may not have known and what they may or may not do to bring the ordeal to an end is the victims themselves—including those who have lost their lives and the families who continue to grieve them.

The New York Times sheds a much-needed light on those who lost their lives and those who continue to mourn them in a March 24 story. Perhaps as important as the candid look at the families who have lost sons and daughters in the prime of their lives is the revelation of the mechanisms at work within GM that have allowed them to skirt responsibility until a little over a month ago. This includes, among other things, threatening families with financial ruin and requiring confidentiality agreements with the families with whom they settled.

“A New York Times review of 19 of those [23] accidents — where victims were identified through interviews with survivors, family members, lawyers and law enforcement officials — found that G.M. pushed back against families in at least two of the accidents, and reached settlements that required the victims to keep the discussions confidential.”

The New York Times reminds us that, as a condition of their bankruptcy agreement, GM cannot be held liable for any accidents that occurred prior to the July 10, 2009 birth of “The New GM.” The family of Allen Ray Floyd, who lost control of his 2006 Cobalt and perished in the accident, had their suit deemed “frivolous” by GM because the accident occurred one week before GM emerged from bankruptcy.

That GM’s ineptitude likely contributed to Floyd’s death—in addition to the deaths of at least a dozen others—is dreadful enough of its own accord. For the company to dismiss a lawsuit—and, in essence, the young man’s death—as “frivolous” for the sheer fact that Allen Ray Floyd had the bad fortune to die in the wrong week is downright revolting.

The family’s attorney opted to capitulate after GM threatened to countersue.

While GM is currently owning up to 12 deaths tied to the ignition switch, NYT cites 23 accidents that are symptomatic of problems related to the faulty ignition switches. In those accidents, 26 lives were lost.

In the case of Mary Ruddy, whose daughter, Kelly Erin Ruddy, 21, was killed in an accident involving her 2005 Cobalt in January 2010, she was advised not to sue General Motors by her attorney because of the rigorous task and ultimate futility of filing suit against a large corporation.

The article is well worth the read and puts faces to the victims of GM’s alleged inaction and seediness. Particularly chilling is the article closing quote from the mother of Benjamin Hair, 20, who died in December 2009 when his Pontiac G5 crashed into a tree and his air bags failed to deploy. Mrs. Hair has received dozens of letter from GM related to the recall for the vehicle in which her son lost his life.

“How many times do I have to tell them? We don’t have the car, and we don’t have our son.”