To do so they are buying Google search terms, registering Internet
domain names, announcing investigations into GM's behavior, and
turning to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to provide updates on
"This is a race to the courthouse," said Bryan Quigley, a senior
vice president at the Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the
pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Already at least two lawsuits have been filed, claiming the company
concealed its knowledge of ignition problems from the public.
Law firms that represent plaintiffs, unlike corporate lawyers and
litigators, typically receive a percentage of the money their
clients recover. The firms that attract the greatest number with
successful claims gain the most.
Take a recent class action against Toyota Motor Corp. Millions of
plaintiffs said they suffered economic losses after the company
recalled millions of vehicles for sudden acceleration problems. The
lawyers took home $200 million in fees and $27 million in expenses
in a settlement valued at $1.6 billion that was approved by a
federal judge last year.
GM recalled 1.6 million cars last month because a faulty ignition
switch was able to turn off a car's engine, disable its airbags and
make steering difficult. The problem has been linked to 12 deaths,
the company says.
The recall has led to government criminal and civil investigations,
an internal probe by GM and preparations for hearings by Congress.
All ask why GM took so long to address a problem it has said first
came to its attention in 2001.
GM has apologized for how it handled the recall and said that taking
care of customers was its top priority. The company said it is
authorizing dealers to provide loaner cars and a $500 cash allowance
to affected customers, and is working quickly to communicate with
customers on a variety of channels about the recall.
On Friday, two Texas law firms filed what appeared to be the first
U.S. class action related to the GM ignition-switch recall on behalf
of car owners who said their vehicles lost value because of the
ignition problems. A Chicago law firm brought a similar class action
on Monday, and more economic-loss and personal-injury lawsuits are
Many other lawyers are going after the anticipated work.
In New York, law firm Weitz & Luxenberg has registered the domain
"GMclaimslawyer.com." The site offers owners of recalled cars a free
legal evaluation about what potential legal claims they might have
for the "danger" GM exposed them to "when they let these fault(y)
vehicles continue to go down the road."
The website, which was registered March 14, asks owners of the cars
in question to contact the firm: "You'll want to be included when
the decision is made, so you can get any share coming to you."
Attorney Robin Greenwald said their office had received hundreds of
inquiries about the GM recall. Weitz & Luxenberg is well-known for
bringing asbestos lawsuits, but auto accident cases are fairly new
terrain, she said.
"The kinds of cases we bring focus on corporations and corporate
malfeasance," Greenwald said. "It's all the same story, it's just
different products." She declined to comment on the specifics of the
[to top of second column]
Weitz & Luxenberg also has bought sponsored ad space on Google,
another strategy the plaintiffs' bar uses to attract business.
A search for the term "GM recall lawsuits" Tuesday afternoon showed
that plaintiffs' firms had the three top ad spots on Google. A
search of "GM" and "sue" turned up an ad for Kline & Specter, a
Philadelphia-based personal injury firm.
Shanin Specter, who co-chairs the firm, said bidders can buy Google
keywords like GM and recall. The going price on Tuesday for such
terms was more than $8 a click, he said.
A 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Legal Reform estimated
that plaintiffs' firms spent more than $53 million that year on
Google keywords to reach consumers searching terms like
"mesothelioma," a type of cancer linked to asbestos.
"It's not really a surprise that the plaintiffs' bar sophistication
in marketing is what it is," said Quigley, a vice president at the
Other plaintiffs' firms, including Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and
Beasley Allen, are simply issuing press releases or announcing on
their websites that they are launching investigations into the
Attorneys at both firms, which represented plaintiffs in cases
against Toyota over its acceleration recall, said they were fielding
calls from potential clients.
Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, one of the firms that
filed the first U.S. class action against GM after the recall, has
made a second approach. On Monday he sent an email to lawyers hired
by GM to investigate the recall asking the carmaker to change its
standard recall notice to a "PARK IT IMMEDIATELY" alert, which he
called "the only acceptable course and decision a moral company can
make at this point."
"I write this email this morning not as an attorney and send it to
you both not in your capacity as attorneys," said Hilliard. "I write
you human being to human being."
A GM spokesman declined to comment on the appeal.
Hilliard, who issued a press release on his email, said in an
interview on Tuesday that it was not a marketing ploy but was meant
to draw attention to a public safety issue.
He has said he plans to bring personal injury lawsuits against GM.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; editing by Noeleen Walder, Eric Effron,
and Prudence Crowther)
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