Recalls related to vehicles and the many parts that go into them are not uncommon. Many of us have gotten documents in the mail warning us to bring our vehicles in for a safety update based on a perceived danger. When such safety action isn't taken, however, and auto accidents occur, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against car manufacturers are filed. But why did an Alabama family's defective product lawsuit against Chrysler not go as they planned?

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring plan approved for Chrysler in 2009 carried with it a protective detail for the auto manufacturer. A judge agreed that the bankruptcy could include protection from civil suits seeking punitive damages.

What are punitive damages? Money awarded to plaintiffs in punitive damages is meant as a means to further punish a defendant. Other financial damages awarded to plaintiffs seek to repay them for a measurable loss. Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against Chrysler can still seek theses compensatory damages, but depending on when they bought their vehicle, plaintiffs will very well be limited to only those damages.

For product liability plaintiffs who bought their Chryslers before 2009, they cannot seek punitive damages. After a fatal Alabama accident in which a Chrysler van flipped, plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the auto maker. But the company's attorney used the bankruptcy protection as reason why the case would be transferred to bankruptcy court, which would complicate and slow the legal process. The case for punitive damages didn't move forward as a result of the roadblock.

This Chrysler stipulation is somewhat limiting with regards to seeking justice, but it isn't a reason for victims of defective products to assume that going after big companies is impossible. There are personal injury attorneys who are not afraid to take on big companies and fight for justice following an injury or death related to faulty design.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Chrysler Got Legal Shield in Chapter 11," Mike Spector, April 4, 2012