BOSTON - United States taxpayers have given US$50 billion to rescue General Motors, but the company says it should not have to pay a penny to people harmed by known defects in its vehicles.
The company filed for bankruptcy on June 1 to re-work debts and restructure its operations. It will dump the Hummer and Saturn models, lay off 21,000 workers, shutter 3,000 dealerships and start anew as a largely US-owned company with a green edge.
As it negotiates bankruptcy in a New York court, the company is arguing that it should be absolved from paying money to people who are hurt as a result of known problems in its cars already on the road. Consumer groups are fighting against the plan and a similar deal already granted to Chrysler.
"If any defect in a GM car causes an accident, or injures someone or kills the occupants, there would be no recourse, no opportunity for compensation or to make a claim in a lawsuit," Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, told Inter Press Service. "It would affect every single driver of a GM vehicle."
GM has one of the worst safety records among car makers. The company, which has 30 million vehicles on the road, is sued in hundreds of cases each year for known defects that result in people being killed, burned and disabled, according to Doroshow's group.
Victims file the lawsuits for help with medical bills, which can be extremely expensive in the US private healthcare system.
If the judge in the GM bankruptcy takes away people's right to sue the company, the consumer groups hope Congress will step in and create a fund for victims.
"They could clearly do this, and it's a reasonable thing to do," Doroshow said.