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Victims of GM ignition switch failures may seek punitive damages

Personal injury victims in New Jersey embroiled in legal battles arising from the ignition switch recall by General Motors Corp. now have a chance to seek punitive damages. A federal bankruptcy judge decided that the GM bankruptcy in 2009 might not shield the company from punitive damages even though the bankruptcy was supposed to protect the newly organized company from previous liabilities.

The reasoning behind the ruling hinged upon alleged knowledge of the dangerous product defect within the new version of GM. Safety investigators, attorneys and engineers employed by GM prior to the bankruptcy continued at the company after the bankruptcy, and they potentially knew about the deadly ignition switch failures. Under this latest ruling, a plaintiff in a GM case would need to prove that people at GM knew about the problem and tried to cover it up after the bankruptcy.

Approximately 250 wrongful death and personal injury suits involving the ignition switch remain active in state and federal courts. The vehicle recall that occurred in February 2014 was prompted by ignition switch failures that had been happening for at least 10 years. The defect caused switches to move out of the run position, which stalled engines, disconnected power steering and shut off airbag function. The resulting accidents injured hundreds of people and killed at least 169.

A person injured by a defective product might need legal representation to sue for compensation. A products liability case will likely involve a large company with considerable legal resources. An attorney might arrange for an expert to investigate how the product failed and injured the victim. This information could prove crucial to the process of recovering damages. An attorney in such a case might also explore the possibility of joining a class action lawsuit.

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