General Motors, a company responsible for many asbestos claims, is in the news again. And unfortunately, once again it is bad news. This time the issue is about a faulty ignition switch that has caused car crashes and deaths and the matter has become one for Congressional hearings.
But only several years ago, it was asbestos claims that were putting GM on the hot seat. This once successful American car company had been named in thousands of asbestos injury lawsuits because it produced and bought parts for its cars that contained asbestos.
The majority of asbestos claims filed against GM stemmed from of asbestos-containing brake linings and clutch facings. People who worked as auto mechanics developed mesothelioma because they had been exposed to asbestos while grinding, repairing and removing friction products such as brakes and clutches.
Thousands of people developed asbestos-related illnesses as a result of GM. By 2009, the company was liable for an estimated $636 million in asbestos claims, and the already struggling automaker filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Following the bankruptcy reorganization in 2009, GM’s debts were transferred to Motors Liquidation Company. This included all present and future asbestos liability claims. The Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos PI Trust officially opened on April 30, 2012 to settle any present and future asbestos lawsuits paying only pennies on the dollar.
GM’s new CEO Mary Barra emphasized in her Congressional testimony that the “new GM” is not the “old GM”. But in a statement seized upon by the media, she conceded that the new GM has a “civic and moral responsibility” towards those harmed, even if it shed some legal responsibility in the bankruptcy.
Does this extend to their asbestos victims? It should. Why is a flawed switch different from a flawed brake? The end result of both is death and bereaved families.
GM escaped all liability for asbestos claims for its older cars and prior acts in the bankruptcy though it did keep a bit of liability for ‘normal’ car defects that could cause accidents. Kudos to the new CEO for recognizing the company’s moral responsibilities. We hope that extends to those who serviced GM cars for decades and died of mesothelioma or brought mesothelioma home to their wives and kids who got sick and died.
We hope she meant what she said but only time will tell.