Is GM’s Ignition Switch Defect Cover-Up About to Unravel?

The death toll for General Motors’ defective ignition switch cover-up has reached 67. Up to now, you were more likely to hear crickets chirping than you were to hear calls for justice for those who died as a direct result of GM’s actions (or inaction) in the case.

That may finally be coming to an end as major news outlets are reporting today that GM has officially been accused of a huge cover-up, and that the proof is still being hidden from the public.

Bloomberg reported on the GM cover-up and quoted attorney Lance Cooper, who played a key role in bringing the ignition switch defect to light when he represented one of the many GM victims. Here’s a succinct excerpt:

General Motors Co. executives participated in a cover-up of ignition-switch defects for years before 2014 recalls, according to lawyers for a family whose wrongful-death lawsuit led to the callback of more than 2.5 million cars.

Documents produced under seal for the suit show GM management and engineers knew the switch raised safety issues and ignored the problem, attorney Lance Cooper said Monday at a press conference on the settlement of the case. This contradicts conclusions in the so-called Valukas report, a GM-paid study on the carmaker’s failings released last year, he said. GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra has said she didn’t know about the seriousness of the defect until early last year.

“Valukas chalked it up to incompetence,” Cooper said. “It was a cover-up.”

Wow, that says a lot. It also brings a lot more into question. Once again, we must ask, “What did Mary Barra know and when did she know it?” Why was a GM-paid-for Valukas’ investigation ever considered as credible? Why have major TV networks, congressional representatives and the Justice Department allowed GM to get away with it without serious investigation?

Why has the National Highway and Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed in its obligation to protect motorists? The fact that GM has just paid an additional settlement, above the original $5 million, to Cooper’s client to quiet them should make it clear that there is something to hide and gives reason to again ask these questions.

Thank God for Lance Cooper. Without him it seems that GM would have figuratively, or as it now seems quite literally, gotten away with murder. It is important to look back at some of the key facts of the flawed ignition switch recall.

GM recalled its defective vehicles at the start of 2014. At that time, only six deaths were attributed to the defect. I questioned the delay by GM in recalling the vehicles in February of 2014 citing many documented problems. One of the most reprehensible acts by GM was in how they originally presented the recall and deaths that arose from accidents involving their defective vehicles. Here's GM's statement as reported by a NY Times piece dated February 13, 2014:

In a separate news release, G.M. said it knew of six deaths in five crashes in which the front air bags did not deploy.

"All of these crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds, where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high regardless of air bag deployment. In addition, failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use were factors in some of these cases," the statement said.

Alcohol was involved in two of the five crashes, resulting in three of the deaths, Alan Adler, a spokesman for G.M., said in a telephone interview. The statement said G.M. was also aware of 17 other crashes "involving some type of frontal impact and nonfatal injuries where the air bags did not deploy."

I questioned GM’s lack of compassion as they blamed victims and accused them of driving intoxicated. In addition, GM attacked victims that dared to pursue justice. GM’s statement that “all of these crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds” was never questioned, to my knowledge. It is also highly unlikely that GM only knew of 18 accidents and only six deaths at the time. By the way, Mary Barra was the CEO of GM when those misleading statements were made.

Moving on to GM CEO, Mary Barra, it has been well-reported that she is a woman. That seems to be reason enough for praise by many. We now have to again question what she knew during her tenure at GM. While she has been excused for having not been the CEO during the time that GM is accused of covering up the ignition switch defect, Barra was the head of product development in 2011 and oversaw quality control. High level meetings were held during that time regarding the fatal defect and resultant lawsuits that were ongoing in 2011, as reported on here.

Perhaps one of the most egregious deceptions by GM involved the internal investigation which they funded. As earlier mentioned, that “Valukas Report” is now being criticized. The crony relationship of those in charge of the so-called investigation were previously questioned here in June of 2014.

Further evidence that GM, and probably Mary Barra, knew about the deadly ignition switch defect earlier than they admitted surfaced in November of 2014. GM supposedly discovered the problem and recalled the defective vehicles in February of 2014 but had ordered replacement parts two months earlier, in December of 2013.

I truly hope that we will finally see justice done as further lawsuits shed light on GM’s cover-up. The documents under seal that reportedly point towards GM’s guilt should be revealed. The eventual outcome will speak volumes about the state of justice in our society. Will the political clout and deep pockets of GM continue to protect them? For the 67 who lost their lives due to an apparent cover-up of a deadly defect by GM, it is past time for the truth to be exposed.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.


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