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The 5 Largest U.S. Product Liability Cases

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The Largest U.S. Product Liability Cases

General Motors Co. (GM) has been making headlines again this year, but it’s the type of press that no corporation ever wants to face. In February 2014, it was discovered that several of its automobile models were manufactured with faulty ignition switches that could shut off the engine during driving, disable power steering and brakes, and prevent airbags from inflating

The faulty switches have so far, according to GM, been linked to at least 13 deaths and 31 car accidents, but there are claims that many more deaths associated with the faulty switch have, indeed, occurred. GM has since recalled over 26 million of its autos for various reasons this year. It has also set up an uncapped $400 million fund designed to compensate for deaths and injuries caused by its vehicles.

In the meantime, several lawsuits have been filed against GM, including two class action suits. The amount that plaintiffs can sue for is still in question, as many of the deaths and accidents that occurred due to the faulty switch happened while GM was going through bankruptcy. Still, one current lawsuit against the car manufacturer is seeking $10 billion in compensation for owners of GM cars and trucks, who claim their vehicles have lost resale value due to the damage to the brand.

This won’t be the first time that GM has faced product liability claims that ended up costing the company dearly. Here is a sampling of some of biggest product liability suits that U.S. corporations have faced. (For more, see: 5 of the Largest Car Recalls In History.)

Philip Morris: Tobacco Products

In 2002, Philip Morris [now known as Altria Group, Inc. (MO)] faced charges in a suit filed by a woman who had lung cancer and claimed that smoking cigarettes had caused her sickness and that her tobacco addiction was caused by the tobacco company's failure to warn her of the risks of smoking. The company was ordered to pay punitive damages of a whopping $28 billion and $850,000 in compensatory damages. Philip Morris appealed the case and nine years later the amount was reduced to $28 million. (For more, see: Biggest Tobacco Lawsuits.)

General Motors Co.: Automobile Parts

In March 2008 GM faced a product liability suit that claimed a damaging chemical was used in its Dex-Cool coolant, which caused leaks and engine damage. A class action suit was filed on behalf of about 35 million GM customers for approximately $20 billion. The customers, who filed the suit, ended up receiving individual payments in the range of $400 to $800.

Dow Corning: Silicone Breast Implants

In 1998, Dow Corning [a joint venture of The Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) and Corning Inc. (GLW)] was reached a settlement in which it agreed to pay $2 billion as part of a larger $4.25 billion class action suit filed by customers who claimed that their silicone breast implants were rupturing, causing injury, bodily damage, scleroderma and death.

General Motors Co.: Automobile Parts

In August 1999, GM also faced a personal injury and product liability lawsuit claiming a faulty gas tank on its 1979 Chevrolet Malibu caused gas tank explosions that killed six individuals. The plaintiffs sued for $4.9 billion in punitive damages.

Owens Corning: Asbestos Building Materials

In December 1998, Owens Corning Corp. (OC) agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle to asbestos-related product liability lawsuits claiming that its asbestos building materials caused mesothelioma cancer and death. There were 176,000 individuals involved in this product liability case. (For related reading, see: W.R. Grace: Maybe The Most Valuable Company Going.)

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