Evidence Mounts that GM Delayed Recall with Deadly Results

CobaltNew evidence is surfacing that General Motors has known for years about the deadly defects in its vehicles (as I suggested here last week) that are just now being recalled. The defects have led to the deaths of at least six people and are the basis of an ongoing lawsuit against GM.

The deadly recall delay by GM has garnered the attention of Mainstream Media as usually GM-friendly sources like USA Today, The New York Times, CNN Money and even CBS Evening News have rightfully decided that the accusations of deplorable behavior by GM deserve to be shared with the public. It is time for GM to explain its handling of the delayed recall that only came after a lawsuit settlement with one of the victims.

It appears that there is an ongoing lawsuit relating to GM’s deadly recall delay, as well as the settled lawsuit that brought to light the defect in some GM vehicles. Here’s what CNNMoney reported on the ongoing lawsuit:

General Motors has been accused of dragging its feet for a decade on recalling popular compact cars with a defect that was involved in the deaths of at least six people.

A Georgia attorney is alleging that GM knew about the problem since 2004 but failed to undertake a recall until mid-February, when GM (GM, Fortune 500) recalled 778,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars. The cars’ ignition switch could easily be bumped or shaken out of the “on” position. When that happened, the engine would shut off leading to a loss of power steering and braking assistance. Also, in the event of a collision, the airbags would not work.

GM acknowledged at least 6 deaths resulting from the problem.

The attorney suing General Motors, Lance Cooper, represents the family of a woman killed in 2010 while driving a 2005 Cobalt, which was among the recalled vehicles.

A GM engineer experienced the problem while test-driving one of the vehicles in 2004 according to deposition transcripts provided to CNNMoney by Cooper. GM’s engineers concluded there was a problem with the ignition switch in 2005, the depositions showed.

GM said that it could not comment on the matter since it is part of an ongoing lawsuit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was aware of the recall and was monitoring its progress, but did not respond directly to a request for comment about GM’s responsiveness.

The fact that the death that allegedly resulted from the delayed recall occurred in 2010 puts “New” GM in a position where they can not weasel out of responsibility by claiming that “Old” GM was at fault. GM emerged as a “new” company in 2009 after their Obama-manipulated bankruptcy process and any claims by victims of “old” GM were washed away along with the investments of GM’s shareholders and bondholders. GM may also have to answer to its friends in Washington, as it would not go unnoticed if NHTSA does not question the actions of GM as well.

NHTSA has been asked to require GM to explain its deadly recall delay by Lance Cooper, the attorney involved in one of the lawsuits. NHTSA has not responded to the request, as reported by USA Today, which writes:

The federal safety agency officially has been asked to require General Motors to explain why it only now has recalled 619,122 U.S.-market 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and similar 2007 Pontiac G5 cars to replace faulty ignition switches blamed for at least six deaths…

…”Testimony of GM engineers and documents produced in Melton v. General Motors et. al., show that the automaker actually knew about the defective ignition switch in these vehicles in 2004 before it began selling” the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, says the letter to NHTSA from Lance Cooper, the plantiff’s lawyer in the lawsuit…

…NHTSA hasn’t responded yet to Cooper’s “timeliness” request.

NHTSA isn’t required to do as Cooper asks. But it was information, and a request, from a lawyer that triggered the agency to begin a probe within three days, examining a Toyota recall’s timing. The government decided Toyota had failed to promptly report potentially deadly steering relay rod problems on some trucks.

NHTSA fined Toyota a near-maximum $16 million for that. Maximum now is $35 million.

NHTSA’s responsibility is to secure the safety of American motorists and any favoritism granted to GM will stink of the ever-present cronyism that has pervaded GM since the government took control of the company to protect its UAW friends. It is refreshing to see the media following the story, as most criticisms against the politically-powerful GM are left to bloggers and those that do not receive huge ad revenue from the company.

Heart-wrenching testimonies from family members of the victims are being unveiled on various sites. From WSBTV.com:

The father of a Paulding County nurse killed in a violent wreck told Channel 2’s Jim Strickland that General Motors should be investigated for a recent recall he says comes too late.

 Ken Melton blames a recalled ignition switch for his daughter’s crash.
“I knew the minute I kissed her forehead, her cold forehead in the ICU, I knew there was something wrong with the car,” Melton said.
Melton was speaking of a 2005 Chevy Colbalt his daughter Brooke was driving on a Paulding County stretch of Highway 92.  It was March 2010.  The accident report shows she lost control, was hit by another car and wound up in a creek.  It was Melton’s 29th birthday, and she was dead.
“I’m extremely angry.  I am boiling over angry,” said Melton after Strickland showed him for the first time, documents in which GM recalls a defective ignition switch.  

This from CBSNews.com:

But CBS News has learned GM’s recall is coming 10 years after the defect was first discovered and seven years after people began to die.

On Oct. 24, 2006, a compact car went off the road in St. Croix County, Wis.

Two teenagers were killed: 18-year-old Natasha Weigel and Margie Beskau’s 15-year-old daughter, Amy.

“There’s days that I am fine, days that I can function,” Beskau said. “But there’s just as many bad days where you just want to cry all day.”

There was no drinking involved, no other cars on the road. Weather was determined not to be a factor.

The statement that drinking was not involved in the above-mentioned accident is important, as GM had initially came out with statements accusing some victims of drinking or speeding while driving. GM still does not seem to be able to stop itself from reverting to the ugly political style defense embedded at the company by its government mentors.

A more important issue at stake at the present time is the matter of getting GM vehicles with defects off the roads so that more people do not get hurt or killed. Unfortunately, GM is still not acting ethically, as all vehicles with defects have not been involved in the recall. Here’s what the New York Times says on GM’s actions:

General Motors in 2006 sent dealers a technical service bulletin warning that because of an ignition problem, a heavy key chain hanging from the ignition could turn off the engine on six models. But only two of those models were covered in last week’s recall of 778,000 vehicles in the United States and Canada for the problem that the automaker now says could keep air bags from deploying in a crash.

Had General Motors recalled the other four models covered by the technical service bulletin, it would have more than doubled the size of the recall in the United States, where the 619,000 vehicles now subject to recall include the 2007 Pontiac G5 and the 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalt…

…G.M. said it was aware of six deaths in five crashes in which the front air bags did not deploy. But the automaker said some of the crashes involved alcohol, the failure to wear seatbelts and high speeds.

In the United States, the models covered by the bulletin but not subject to the recall were the 2006-7 Chevrolet HHR, the 2006-7 Pontiac Solstice, the 2003-7 Saturn Ion and the 2007 Saturn Sky. According to an analysis by Experian Automotive, about 643,000 of those vehicles are still registered, including 403,000 Ions, 191,000 HHRs, 35,000 Solstices and 14,000 Skys.

Asked why the additional models were not recalled, Alan Adler, a General Motors spokesman, wrote in an email that “G.M. has devoted significant time and resources to evaluating this issue, and has concluded that the 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalt and the 2007 G5 should be recalled.” He declined to answer additional questions.

The public should be aware of GM’s reprehensible behavior regarding its botched recall. People have died, and more are at risk because of GM’s refusal to recall all defective vehicles. Let’s hope that continued pressure from media sources encourages GM to start acting in an ethical manner. TV networks should not shy away from asking tough questions about GM’s recall scandal. Money and political power should not shield a corporation that seems to put profits above human lives and GM should be held responsible for its actions.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.