The head of General Motors’ legal department, Michael P. Millikin, along with CEO Mary Barra, testified on July 17 before a U.S. Senate Committee. When the day was over, it hadn’t been a good day for the automaker. Ms. Barra again says her company suffered from a “pattern of incompetence and neglect,” but she still insists there was no cover-up involving the ignition switch defect.
But an examination of so-called “death inquiries” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following crashes involving GM vehicles, it is apparent multiple people at GM repeatedly avoided answering questions about the problem, even with internal knowledge of multiple deaths. Independent safety experts believe the number of deaths is much higher than the 13 GM admits to. In fact, 300 deaths are a much more accurate number. It should be noted that the concealment of critical safety information is at the center of an ongoing investigation of GM being conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.
After watching the presentations during the hearing, I am more convinced than ever that General Motors intentionally covered up a known defect that has killed and badly injured hundreds of innocent people. No reasonable person should believe that only a few engineers and lawyers were responsible for conduct that is as bad as I have seen during my 35 years of handling product liability litigation. If GM operated in the manner described before the Congressional committees, and as found by the so-called independent investigation paid for by GM, then the automaker needs to clean house and bring in new blood – men and women – who will do more than talk about bringing about a new safety culture, and truly make safety a reality at the company.
Although the Senate hearing was beneficial, there is still much work to be done. It is more important than ever that the Melton case in Georgia move forward. It is clear from the hearing that GM does not want the public to know the whole truth about what all of its employees, including senior management, knew about the company’s safety issues and when they knew about them. Only when the Meltons finally have their day in court will we learn the whole story about GM’s cover-up of a known defect. That day will now be in Cobb County, Ga., since this case was sent back to state court.
General Motors is not only guilty of gross negligence that borders on criminal conduct, but it is clearly guilty of fraud in its dealings with the government, the courts and the American people. Documents obtained by The New York Times are more evidence of an internal cover-up by GM. GM must be punished for what it has done in a decade of incompetence, neglect and cover-up. Unfortunately, GM still does not accept full responsibility for its wrongdoing. Its attempts to blame a few individuals for what was company-wide incompetence, wrongful conduct and cover-up simply does not meet the “smell test” and won’t be accepted by the American people.
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