Internal documents show GM cover up with ignition switch defect

Internal documents show GM cover up with ignition switch defect

After several months of relative peace for General Motors, it appears the spotlight is on the automaker once more. The team of attorneys responsible for discovering the ignition switch defect and exposing GM found new and startling information in previously sealed internal documents.

Contradicting the GM-paid investigation completed by Anton Valukas, the recently opened documents allegedly contain evidence that it was a cover up at GM and not incompetence that kept the issue a secret for more than a decade.

In March 2010, the Meltons lost their only daughter, Brooke, after her car key slipped out of the ‘on’ position and disabled power steering and airbags. Promising her justice, they hired Lance Cooper and Jere Beasley to fight against the giant company. An engineer working for the attorneys examined the ignitions of similar vehicles and found the detent plunger, a tiny spring intended to hold the key in place, was millimeters too short in Brooke’s Chevy Cobalt, causing the accident.

This discovery and depositions done of GM executives, including engineer Ray DeGiorgio, uncovered the startling truth – this was a known problem at GM for more than 10 years. After initially settling for $5 million, Cooper, Beasley and the Meltons asked GM to rescind the deal and now a new, undisclosed amount has been dispersed.

In reopening the case, the legal team had access to documents previously unopened, even for Valukas as he conducted his internal investigation. Cooper claims the information found in documents prove that more than incompetence kept the defect a secret for all those years.

After announcing the recall last February, GM claimed the issue was responsible for 13 deaths and more than 30 injuries. As of this Monday, the total grew to 67 deaths and 113 injury claims, with almost 1,500 left to evaluate. Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney responsible for creating the uncapped compensation fund, expects the process to continue until at least late spring with between $400 and $600 million being paid to those affected by GM’s negligence.

A series of depositions of other GM executives will determine whether or not it was a cover up or simply ignorance from the employees. The question remains whether CEO Mary Barra was also aware of both the problem and subsequent mishandling. In multiple interviews, she claims she had no idea prior to taking office in January, but these statements will be questioned if the Meltons’ lawyers prove the defect was intentionally suppressed.

For more than a year, the GM ignition switch recall has made headlines with twists and turns regarding the delayed announcement and culture of incompetence. If a cover up is found, GM will continue to be publicly scrutinized for its negligence and disregard to human life versus company costs.

Sources

  • Automotive News, “Death toll from defective GM ignition switches rises by 3 to 67,” (March 16, 2015). [Link]
  • Nick Bunkley, “Plaintiffs’ lawyers say GM internal documents contradict Valukas report,” Automotive News (March 16, 2015). [Link]
  • Margaret Cronin Fisk, “GM settles death lawsuit that spurred millions of recalls,” BloombergBusiness (March 13, 2015). [Link]
  • Phil LeBeau, “It was a cover-up:’ New allegations against GM,” CNBC (March 16, 2015). [Link]
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