Crime and Business: Negligent Tort

 

CarOn June 29, 2014, the General Motors Company recalled thousands of vehicles which are said to have faulty mechanics and parts which have led to or have been the cause of serious or fatal injury to consumers.

The models affected are: 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu; 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue; 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero; 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am; 2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo; 2004-2008 Pontiac Grand Prix. The problem?  Reportedly, the ignition key can be bumped out of run position while driving [See: CNN Report| Every General Motors recall in 2014], and it is estimated that as many as 7,610,862 million vehicles are at risk nationwide. Consequently, as noted in news reports there is negligence on behalf of the GM employees; as well, as their CEO, Mary Barra who is accused of covering up faults in the installation of ignition switches the vehicles. This article will show where corporations, notably General Motors, failed or are neglectful and which might reportedly have led to civil action suits against them; hence, the elements of discussion are:  (a) Duty of Care, (b) Standard of Care, (c) Breach of Duty of Care, (d) Actual Causation, (e) Proximate Causation, (f) Actual Injury, and (g) Defenses to Negligence.

The General Motors Company apparently is no stranger to such recalls as this, however, not to such a magnitude because according to the list there have also been a number of recalls; not only for June, but also beginning with February 2014 through September 2014. According to Seaquist (2013) there are at least involved in the Duty of Care, or Reasonable Personal Standard (Seaquist, 2013) which speaks of the standard of behavior expected of a person in a particular situation. For example, there are at least 230 [including fifteen fired] employees accused in the suit, and as mention the CEO.

The article, “GM Admits Incompetence, Negligence Led to Delayed Recall,” disclosed GM’s lack of Duty to Care:

Last month, GM paid a $35 million fine — the largest ever assessed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — for failing to report the problem quickly to federal regulators. GM knew about problems with the ignition switches as early as 2001, and in 2005 it told dealers to tell owners to take excess items off their key chains so they wouldn’t drag down the ignition switch. In 2006, an engineer at GM approved a change in the switch design, but didn’t inform the government or change the corresponding part number. In subsequent years, that made it harder for other GM engineers to figure out why older Cobalts’ performed worse than newer ones (The Associated Press, 2014).

In this case, there is a burden of proof for the defendants for them to prove that they are not negligent, according to Seaquist (2013) who wrote concerning the Statutory Duty of Care.

There certain elements:

  1. Defendants have burden of proof to prove they were not negligent.
  2. Plaintiff must prove that the defendant failed at the duty of care.

There is also the element of Foreseeability [actual causation] and Proximate Causation which is direct causation, or the breach of the Duty of Care, or rather the circumstance of negligence which caused the injury and this includes foreseeability which begs the question of whether the defective part was known beforehand. In essence, knowing the part was faulty, and also knowing the consequences beforehand; yet, still allowing the cars out for sale causing injury to consumers (Seaquist, 2014).

Here is the premise, for example, is it foreseeable that people who buy cars have a tendency to add other objects to their key rings, and can be a problem with an already faulty ignition switch? According to the Associated Press article, GM knew and yes they knew there would be a problem, because they apparently recalled vehicles before for the same thing:

A new article stated, “In 2006, an engineer at GM approved a change in the switch design, but didn’t inform the government or change the corresponding part number. In subsequent years, that made it harder for other GM engineers to figure out why older Cobalts performed worse than newer ones. In May, GM recalled another 2.7 million vehicles for various issues. The bulk of the recall was for Chevrolet Malibu cars from 2004-2012 as well as the 2004-2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, 2005-2010 Pontiac G6 and 2007-2010 Saturn Auras, all to modify the brake lamp wiring harness” [The Associate Press, 2014].

The last thing on the list to find negligence on the part of the manufacturing company General Motors is the industry of care which would give reference to expert opinion. Notably, there were also investigations initiated in notice of interviews, and firings which subsequently resulted from those. In the article, “General Motors releases delayed recall investigation, cites negligence and incompetence” Barra reports the finding of the experts in the scandal. The Daily News stated, “In 2006, GM engineer Ray De Giorgio – who designed the switch – approved a change in the switch design, but didn’t inform the government or change the corresponding part number. In subsequent years, that made it harder for other GM engineers to figure out why older Cobalts performed worse than newer ones. Barra confirmed Thursday that two employees placed on leave in April have been fired; De Giorgio was one of those employees.” (The Daily News, 2014). Hence, the manufacturer is in a jam as far as the defendant proving lack of neglect, because they have admitted their part, and as the article stated paid a hefty fine as a result.

Some forms in Defense of Negligence are: (a) Contributory negligence, (b) Comparative negligence or assumption of risk, and (c) Pure Contributory Negligence. The first contributory is where the plaintiff along with the defendant is responsible. In essence, as Seaquest (2013) noted about the snow on the walk, that is yes it is the business owners duty to make sure the snow is shovel, however, if there is snow on walk why did the plaintiff walk on it.  Could he have gone around? Did the customer have to use that business? Who knows? Hence both have a part, although the defendant might owe the greater responsibility for the injury because he did not shovel the walk (Seaquest, 2013). Secondly, Comparative Negligence would stem from the plaintiff help with his injury. Hence, if the defendant sued for two million dollars, and a jury decides that the plaintiff should pay a portion then that total is subtracted from the total award and the plaintiff wins the remained. In example, 2 million – plaintiff deduction/part = remaining award. In the Pure Comparative, the law agrees that the irresponsible party wins something no matter if the accident was caused by the defendant; however, the plaintiff’s award is greater.

Concerning Consumer Protection [ which is mentioned briefly], it is all important and is law which protects customers from harm. Seaquist (2013) wrote:  Strict Liability in Tort In contrast with absolute liability, strict liability is a recently developed theory in law that holds manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers liable for defects in the design or manufacturing of products that render such products unreasonably dangerous to the intended users (Seaquest, 2014). Consequently, GM has to face Congress on their negligent acts and failure to protect the public they serve [Read: General Motors executives to face Congress over car recall scandal]  in their efforts or lack of thereof in keeping their Duty of Care.

 

 

Sources:
LIABILITY OF AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS FOR UNSAFE DESIGN OF PASSENGER CARS

Business law for managers. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

General Motors releases delayed recall investigation, cites negligence and incompetence

GM Admits Incompetence, Negligence Led to Delayed Recall. Mashable. Business

Money Every General Motors recall in 2014 

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