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Company settles auto death cases, is on probation

This week, the Justice Department announced that a settlement of $900 million will be paid out by General Motors in order to settle the criminal charges that were filed due to the defective ignition switches in their cars.

The switches were related to at least 124 fatalities that occurred when the switches shut off suddenly as the car was in motion. Power brakes and steering, as well as the airbags were disabled, causing drivers to lose control behind the wheel.

Even though GM admitted they knew about the problem with the switches for almost 10 years before recalling millions of flawed cars just last year, no corporate executives individually faced charges in the matter. As a result, one crash victim's mother called it "grossly inadequate."

The Chief Executive Officer of GM stated to employees, "People were hurt and people died in our cars." She later added that the company had "made substantial changes."

A United States attorney claimed that the law makes prosecution of individuals difficult, as well as being able to impose stiffer corporate penalties. This is because it is actually legal to sell people defective cars that can cause deaths. Thus, the company itself was criminally charged for not reporting information regarding the defective auto part. It remains an ongoing investigation; future individual charges may still be forthcoming.

The U.S. attorney acknowledged that after the disclosure was made, GM executives' cooperation was "fairly extraordinary." That is partly why the Justice Department deferred prosecution now and placed GM on three years' probationary status. Continuing cooperation with authorities can result in the criminal case being dropped.

A class action lawsuit was also settled in approximately 1,400 instances of serious injuries or deaths related to other additional manufacturing problems. The full settlement amount was undisclosed, but the sum of $575 million was mentioned as payment in both criminal and civil cases. This is in addition to earlier monies related to the litigation.

Those who suffer similar preventable tragedies due to malfunctioning auto parts may wish to pursue justice through the civil court system even when no criminal charges result.

Source: CNN, "GM CEO: 'People died in our cars'," Chris Isodore and Evan Perez, Sep. 17, 2015

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