What you don’t know about General Motors’ recent dangerous product defect just might cause you to give away your best hope to prevent future wrongdoer’s from hurting or killing you and your loved ones.
Many people know now that General Motors had for years produced a number of vehicles with defective ignition switches. These switches would slip out of the “run” position and cause important safety measures in the vehicle to switch off, including power steering, power brakes and airbags. Most people also understand that General Motors hid the defect for more than a decade, even though GM knew it had already resulted in several deaths in the United States.
Today, General Motors issued a report that, presumably, is meant to try to control the flood of bad press it’s received. Media coverage has characterized GM’s position as, “We didn’t do it on purpose. We were just hopelessly incompetent and outrageously negligent on multiple levels over many years.” Elected officials promise there will be consequences. Government agencies are gearing up for penalties.
So, if the media’s been great about covering the story; most people know these details; and the government and its officials are gearing up to punish GM, what don’t we know that could possibly be important about this story?
What we don’t know, because the media has hardly reported it, is that GM’s wrongdoing was not revealed by GM. It was not discovered by government watchdogs or elected officials. The reason we know anything about GM’s defective switch and years of outrageous, perhaps even criminal, wrongdoing is because an injury lawyer in Georgia named Lance Moore took a case trying to help the family of a woman killed in a car crash. Lance Moore dug through discovery and depositions of GM employees. Lance Moore discovered the defective switch and the fact that GM had known about it for years. In short, what we don’t know is that it was a single personal injury lawyer in Georgia representing a single harmed client who uncovered what we know now as the century’s most important and dangerous product defect.
The fact that the media isn’t covering this important fact may be hugely important to all of us. I don’t blame you if you’re thinking, “Sure, that’s exactly what I’d expect a personal injury lawyer to say. These guys are so full of themselves. They can’t pat themselves on the back enough.” But hang with me a moment.
Consider this. Without knowing that this disaster was uncovered by a lawyer, what do you presume happened? Do you presume that GM revealed it on its own? Do you presume that there are powerful government agencies out there who investigate accidents like the one that killed that young woman in Georgia and hold manufacturers accountable? If you don’t know it was a personal injury lawyer then don’t you have to assume the discovery was made by one of those two mechanisms?
If you presume that powerful corporations come forward and admit guilt on their own or if you presume that there are diligent government agencies out there protecting you, then you have to conclude that you may be protected by these circumstances.
Even worse, you might see what is happening to General Motors now. You might think, “Well, no one is ever going to do that again! Look at all the bad press they’re getting. And the Department of Justice is threatening millions of dollars in fines! GM, and others like them, have learned their lesson and me and mine will be safe in the future.”
And there lies the rub. General Motors didn’t come forward. ln fact, wrongdoers rarely come forward to admit guilt. Nor do government agencies aggressively investigate individual accidents (usually). Nor have prior sanctions changed the behavior of wrongdoers. In 2010, after all, Toyota paid $1.2 billion dollars in fines over their sudden acceleration recall but that plainly did not prompt GM to come forward and admit its own wrongdoing.
Here is the truth. Humans and human organizations are occasionally negligent and incompetent. That will never change. Wrongdoers do not typically come forward and admit their culpability if they have a plausible chance of avoiding responsibility. The government has never funded an aggressive individual investigative and enforcement effort designed to identify and remedy negligence and incompetence. Our only systemic protection from negligence and incompetence is a vigorous personal injury system populated by injury lawyers like Lance Moore who are motivated to take one case and dig for the truth in an effort to help one client.
When the media covers the GM story and leaves out the important truth that it was a personal injury lawyer who uncovered GM’s responsibility in this affair then the most important lesson that comes out of the GM defective switch debacle: that injury lawyers are our best and only protection from the dangerous negligence and/or incompetence of others, is lost.
The problem with losing that message is that our personal injury system and personal injury lawyers are under attack. Voters across the country have been told for years that lawyers and their cases are a problem to be solved and their elected leaders are “solving” the problem with “tort reform.” Tort reform is code for taking away the right to sue and its ultimate goal is to renders lawyers impotent. If voters continue to support tort reform then they will unknowingly being doing away with their best and only protection against the “incompetence and neglect” of wrongdoers.
So, if you’ve read this far, thank you and please remember this. Lawyers are, contrary to popular opinion, your friend. A vigorous personal injury civil justice system is your best and only means for holding wrongdoers accountable and for encouraging others to act carefully and responsibly. And when you next hear a candidate for office tell you that they are running on a platform of tort reform, let them know loud and clear that we do not need to protect wrongdoers. On the contrary, we need wrongdoers to know that there are lawyers out there always watching, always ready to help the people who have been harmed. Tell those candidates, tell your local elected officials that you are firmly against tort reform.
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