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GM Recall Shows How The Civil Justice System Works

PHOTO: The president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, Chris Stombaugh, says the GM recall shows how the civil justice system is a check on corporations. (Photo provided by WAJ)
PHOTO: The president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, Chris Stombaugh, says the GM recall shows how the civil justice system is a check on corporations. (Photo provided by WAJ)
April 17, 2014

MADISON, Wis. – General Motors recently recalled 2.6 million vehicles to repair a faulty ignition switch that’s blamed for 13 deaths.

Christopher Stombaugh, an attorney and president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, says the only reason the public became aware of the problem was because of the civil justice system and some very hard work by the attorney for the family of a young woman who was killed in a wreck caused by the problem.

Stombaugh says in this case and many like it, underfunded government regulatory agencies were not capable of doing the job.

"They need the help from the private side and even from attorneys who are working to make Wisconsin – and actually the entire country – a safer place for kids and families,” he says. “They need that assistance to do it. They can't do it on their own."

According to Stombaugh, because of the way the civil justice system works, the parents of the young woman who was killed were able to hold accountable one of the largest corporations in the world.

GM knew about the problem for years and did nothing about it.

"The jury system is the one area that we have left where people are making decisions who are not paid by any party, by any lobbyist, by any interest group, Stombaugh stresses. “They are making decisions based on the law as the court gives it to them and their own common sense."

The case showed that GM decided years ago that a 90-cent fix was too expensive for the company to issue a voluntary recall, until the litigation led to the massive recall.

Stombaugh says the way the civil justice system works – through discovery of information and the judge and jury – is a check on corporations.

"However, if something breaks along that chain,” he says. “If people aren't allowed to bring their claims or if judges are disinclined to allow this sort of discovery of information, or in fact if the rules, the federal rules of civil procedure are changed so that we can't obtain them, we've got a problem and this system will break down."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI