Most personal injury lawsuits are brought by contingent fee attorneys on behalf of a wrongly injured individual seeking money damages for his or her losses. For the injured person there is almost always a degree of emotional validation sought, but the bottom line has to be money, the exchange is of which is the only civilized way to offer payback. In addition to the individual justice dispensed, it is certainly the case that every time a personal injury case is settled or goes to trial, it is a reaffirmation of our system of a fair and open government.
But sometimes, the pushing forward of an individual personal injury case can have a larger impact on society for the better. In 2001 GM engineers considered, but rejected, a safer, longer ignition switch for the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt. To be fair, in 2001 they likely could not have known what their decision would mean. But by 2004 that changed as news of ignition failure and then the accidents came to GM’s attention. The shorter switches have been linked to at least 32 car accidents resulting in at least 13 deaths. Indeed, sometime between 2006 and 2007, GM quietly began using the longer ignition switch but without telling anyone of the danger posed by the older, shorter switches. The failures and accidents in the older cars piled up. In fall 2012, an engineer retained by a personal injury lawyer working for the family of a deceased Cobalt driver noticed that a newer ignition switch from 2007 was longer than the one in the 2005 Cobalt, but both had the same part number. GM had made the change without telling anyone. In April 2013 depositions of GM engineers followed, the truth came out, and finally GM started to recall the faulty cars in February 2014. GM had known about the deadly switch for a decade and told no one – until forced to by a personal injury lawsuit.