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GM liability agreement no help to Smithtown family

The family of a 10-year-old Smithtown girl left a quadriplegic after an auto accident more than two years ago is disappointed that their case against General Motors will not be helped from a product liability agreement struck by the carmaker, the Obama administration and state attorneys general.

"It doesn't do anything for us," Bob Dinnigan, the father of Amanda Dinnigan, said Tuesday of the agreement reached Friday. "We've got a good case. We'd like to prove our case."

Under the agreement, GM will assume responsibility for product liability claims filed after it emerges from bankruptcy protection. Consumers can file claims even if their cars were made by the "old" GM. But the agreement stipulates that past claims will have to pursue the GM left behind in bankruptcy. That GM has unwanted assets, debts and other liabilities, so claims against it are likely to recover little, if anything.

The agreement does represent a concession by GM, however. Under an original agreement, GM was to have sold its assets to a "new" GM "free and clear" of existing and future liability claims.

However, since Amanda's case has been pending in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, it would have to pursue the "old" GM, said the family's attorney, Alan M. Shapey of Manhattan.

Shapey said the agreement "shows GM made concessions, but they're not willing to make any more." He added that if he is unable to sue GM, he plans to file a case against the manufacturer of the seat belt in the GMC Envoy in which Amanda was a passenger. The car was driven by her mother, Arlene, when it went out of control and struck a tree about 500 yards from their home, and their suit alleges the vehicle's seat belts were defective. The mother was injured but recovered.

Tuesday, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) filed a bill that would require the new GM and Chrysler to carry liability insurance and cover claims against them for any defective products produced by their predecessor company.

Justin Ohlemiller, a Carson spokesman, said constituent Jeremy Warriner was badly injured in a Jeep Wrangler but cannot sue the manufacturer because his case is pending. Ohlemiller said Carson's bill would cover Warriner, Amanda and "thousands" of others in similar situations. Ohlemiller said Carson is seeking bipartisan support.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he is unhappy with what he sees as GM's attempt to "walk away" from cases and is studying measures to force the company to deal more broadly with liability issues covering cases like this.

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