A New York bankruptcy judge is allowing a woman burned by a defectively designed gas tank to move forward with her second attempt to hold General Motors LLC (New GM) responsible. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn said the revised version of Kaitlyn Reichwaldt’s complaint adequately states a claim for punitive damages against New GM independent of Old GM’s conduct. The court had previously determined that Ms. Reichwaldt, who sustained burns after her non-GM car collided with a 1984 GM pickup bearing what she says was a dangerously placed gas tank, could not pursue punitive damages against New GM following Old GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. That was because her claim didn’t target New GM specifically. Judge Glenn said in his order:
The court has reviewed the revised [first amended complaint], and finds that it does not conflict with this court’s prior rulings with respect to impermissible allegations concerning independent claims..
The court had directed the parties to meet and revise the proposed complaint with regard to allegations against New GM in particular. In the August order, the court cited a previous ruling that found “a Plaintiff who was injured post-petition by a vehicle manufactured prepetition, who had no contact with the debtor prior to the accident, and who received no notice of the bankruptcy, did not hold a ‘claim’ that could be barred at the time of a sale.” Ms. Reichwaldt’s revised complaint states a claim for punitive damages against New GM specifically for failing to warn of the potential danger from the gas tank’s placement in Old GM’s pickup trucks. The new complaint states:
That GM LLC was on notice of the danger and therefore had its own independent duty to warn of a danger for which it admits it had assumed responsibility cannot be denied.
The court said that the revised complaint “gets through the gate” to the Georgia federal court that will determine whether the allegations meet the pleading standards of nonbankruptcy law.
Kaitlyn Reichwaldt is represented by Jim Butler, Robert Snyder, David Rohwedder and Joseph M. Colwell of Butler Wooten & Peak LLP. The bankruptcy is In re: Motors Liquidation Co., (case number 1:09-bk-50026) in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
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