Or is it a huge victory for a big corporation?
A few years ago, General Motors was plagued with faulty ignition switches that resulted in the deaths of 124 people and the injuries of hundreds more. GM has so far paid out $2.6 million in settlements and penalties as a result, but no current or former executives have been charged with any crime as many believe some managers knew the switches were defective and did not take appropriate action.
Prior to the Takata airbag recall, this was the largest automotive recall in US history, to give you an idea just how serious this all was. And despite the payouts, some still feel justice has not been properly served for GM’s victims. They’re not going to like this latest piece of related news. Reuters reports that owners of GM vehicles with those faulty ignition switches will not receive compensation for lost value. Score another legal victory for GM. Affected models included the Chevrolet Cobalt (later replaced by the Cruze), Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, and the Pontiac Solstice.
US District Judge Jesse Furman has ruled that owners in three "bellwether” states – California, Missouri, and Texas, cannot seek damages for the difference in the value of the vehicle and what they originally paid for it. Furman ruled that the owners failed to show their vehicles’ fair market value, even with testimony from an expert witness, resulted in an "absence of evidence on an essential element” of their claims, thus making it impossible for any jury to assess damages.
The judge also said that while damages could be measured by costs to repair defective vehicles, they could end up being zero if GM footed the bill, Reuters noted. GM was obviously quite pleased with the ruling because it effectively dismissed the owners’ largest remaining claim. The owners also suffered another defeat as a result of the ruling. Furman’s decision also included an indefinite delay of the trial on the claims from these states because his decision "changes the landscape in dramatic ways.”
The trial was originally set to get underway on January 13, 2020, but Furman stated that "it may well make sense for the parties to revisit the issue of settlement.” One of the lawyers for the owners said he might ask Furman to reconsider his decision, but remained confident he could address the judge’s concerns in cases from other states.
"There has to be a damage remedy for consumers who unwittingly drove cars with serious safety issues,” attorney Steve Berman said in an email. "The car maker doesn’t get a free pass when it’s caught lying years later and then fixes the cars.” Furman clearly disagrees.