DETROIT – When you are late for work, have to pick up a coffee and run some errands the last thing you want to worry about is if the new car you bought is perfectly put together.
A federal bankruptcy judge has ruled that people suing General Motors over faulty ignition switches can seek punitive damages that could cost the company millions of dollars or more.
When General Motors emerged from a 2009 bankruptcy, it became known as “New GM.” The new company essentially was shielded from liabilities of the old company that was left behind.
But Judge Robert Gerber in New York ruled Monday that employees and knowledge transferred from the “Old GM” to the new company. Plaintiffs, he ruled, can seek punitive damages if they can show that “New GM” knew of the faulty switches but covered it up.
The ruling has the potential to open GM to large jury verdicts, because the company has admitted knowing about the faulty switches for a decade or more but failed to recall the cars until February of 2014. Many of the engineers, attorneys and safety investigators who had knowledge of the switches went from the old company to the new one.
But in a statement, GM said the ruling was not a victory for those suing the company. Although the court ruled that New GM could be liable for punitive damages for claims based solely on its conduct, “plaintiffs to date have not established any such independent claims against New GM,” the statement said.
The ignition switches can slip out of the run position and shut off the engine, knocking out the power steering, power brakes and air bags. They are responsible for crashes that killed at least 169 people and injured hundreds of others.