Angry families want GM prosecuted for defects

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Two weeks ago, the Justice Department socked Toyota with a $1.2 billion penalty over its recall of millions of vehicles for unintended acceleration. But no individuals were charged, even though prosecutors discovered that some managers sought to conceal problems with gas pedals in certain cars.

Proving individual guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is much harder than prosecuting a company based on the collective knowledge of all its employees. “To charge an individual, you have to show that one individual acted illegally by himself,” Axelrod said.

For now, many of the families are simply seeking more information about the fatal crashes.

Originally, Ruddy thought the power steering motor failed on his daughter’s 2005 Cobalt, causing her to crash while returning home from visiting friends in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., late at night. The Cobalt was recalled in 2010 to replace faulty power steering motors. But now he thinks the ignition switch could have shut off the engine, knocking out power steering and brakes and causing her to lose control of the car.

GM took the car’s event data recorder, and only recently returned it after the family contacted a Pennsylvania senator for help. The contents are now being analyzed, and the family will be looking to see the position of the ignition switch, Ruddy said.

Ruddy says the family is considering a lawsuit against GM but has yet to file one. A family friend who is an attorney is advising them on their next steps.

Rimer and his wife have already filed a lawsuit against GM. He’s worried that GM might be legally protected from lawsuits arising from decisions it made before its 2009 bankruptcy.

“No money will ever bring my wife’s daughter back,” he said. But “unless there’s a consequence for them doing something wrong, what’s going to stop them from doing something wrong again?”

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Thomas Strong in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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