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GM bankruptcy could bail out safety defects

Will there be no legal recourse for victims injured by Chrysler or GM vehicles? Chris Jensen at the New York Times’ Wheels Blog provides us with some stunning figures that reveal GM’s incentive for wriggling away from accountability:

In its recent bankruptcy filing, G.M. asked that the assets of the new company that emerges from bankruptcy be “free and clear of all successor liability claims.” It is an attempt to prevent the new G.M. from being financially responsible for injuries caused by vehicles already sold, said Adina Rosenbaum, a lawyer for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

Avoiding those obligations could save G.M. a lot of money. Last year it paid about $921 million to settle product-liability claims, according to G.M.’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2007 the payments topped $1.1 billion.

Seriously, it would be terrific for GM to emerge from bankruptcy with the capacity to produce the cleanest, greenest vehicles on the planet. But not at the expense of safety and accountability. People who own these vehicles should be confident that they can hold the company accountable in case of serious defects. The Chrysler bankruptcy court ruled against Public Citizen on this issue, but we’ve filed an appeal.