Our post earlier this week discussed a settlement between General Motors and the Department of Justice. The $900 million GM agreed to pay may seem like a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the company's overall annual revenue. It also pales in comparison to the $49 billion bankruptcy bailout that GM received from the American taxpayers in 2009.
In addition to issuing relatively small fines, the Justice Department also failed to indict a single GM employee (current or former) related to the decade-long cover-up of safety defects. As you might expect, the families of victims were especially angry about how this criminal investigation was resolved.
One woman interviewed by the New York Times lost her daughter in a 2006 car accident. Commenting on the settlement, she said: "I don’t understand how they can basically buy their way out of it. They knew what they were doing and they kept doing it."
Another woman who lost her teen daughter to a defect-related car accident was also angry about the settlement. She said: "We buried our loved ones because GM buried a deadly defect. And yet today all GM has to do is write another check to escape. We can’t escape - every day I am missing a daughter."
Sadly, criminal justice often falls short when it comes to holding at-fault parties accountable for the harm they have caused. Whether someone is killed by a defective vehicle or a distracted driver, any consequences imposed are likely to be inadequate.
While no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, the civil justice system has an important role to play in helping victims and their families find healing and closure. Hopefully, the families of GM victims who were deprived of criminal justice will resolve their civil lawsuits as favorably as possible.