Despite taking nearly ten years to disclose problems with 1.3 million faulty ignition switches, GM now claims that it cannot be held liable for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths, if they occurred before it filed for bankruptcy in 2009. CNN reports that Chrysler has a similar liability shield, which could save both companies a combined $3 billion.
Although some lawsuits involving injuries before 2009 have been thrown out, it is possible that the liability shield will not stand if plaintiffs can prove that GM engaged in fraud by covering up the problem with ignition switches or minimizing the extent of the problem. The fact that GM first know about the problem in 2004, and did not recall its cars to fix the problem until last January, suggests that GM was less than forthright with the bankruptcy court and government officials involved in negotiating the release from liability.
NBC reports that at least two congressional committees are investigating why GM took so long to recall its vehicles to fix the faulty switches. Under the recently passed Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, GM may be criminally liable for failing to report safety issues to the NHTSA.