If someone on the street sells you a dangerous product that ends up killing you, he or she would likely face prosecution and even jail time. Yet big businesses always seem to get off with a slap on the wrist for selling products that they knew, or had reason to know, were dangerous enough to cause injuries and deaths.
The latest example of this involves General Motors (GM).
Over the last 11 years, federal safety officials received more than 260 complaints about GM vehicles, which would suddenly shut off, disabling vital elements of the car, including power brakes and airbags, and most importantly, the loss of power steering. These malfunctions resulted in many, many accidents nationwide.
GM has now finally conceded, for the first time, that 13 people were killed due to this defect in its cars’ ignition systems (Plaintiff lawyers maintain that the real number of people killed is over 60.).
Until very recently, GM claimed that there was not enough evidence to warrant a safety investigation by the government. It tried to distinguish each accident, denying that there was any overall defect with its vehicles.
However, it turns out now that GM knew of this ignition defect for more than a decade and failed to fix the problem. How high up the knowledge went remains to be seen as the investigation continues. In an attempt to contain part of this publicity crisis, GM fired some of its inhouse counsel, who apparently attempted to conceal evidence. In addition, GM also created a fund to compensate the victims of these accidents. Still, this simply appears to be a case of GM getting caught and now trying to salvage its reputation.
Is the federal government partially responsible for this?
It is the federal government’s responsibility to properly and thoroughly investigate matters such as this. However, after making initial inquiries, the government frequently accepts the well crafted responses given by large corporations, without digging deeper to determine if there is cause to merit a full safety investigation.
In this case, there were too many similar incidents occurring and far too many people being injured or killed. An investigation conducted earlier could have saved lives.
As for GM itself, let’s not forget that in 2009, the company received a $50 billion taxpayer bailout to allow it to remain solvent. It is perhaps ironic that its survival as a company was paid for by the same taxpayers that were buying its cars and being killed or seriously injured.