We are learning more about who all at General Motors (GM) knew about the serious problem with its defective ignition switch in GM vehicles and when they knew it. It is now very clear that a massive cover up by GM of a known defect took place. Our firm and the Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., all in the early stages of discovery in the case of 29-year-old Brooke Melton, who was killed in the 2010 crash of her Chevy Cobalt, caused by the defective GM ignition switch. For example, a chain of internal GM emails from December 2013 to February 2014 – prior to the recall – reveals a GM employee ordering replacement parts from its supplier, Delphi, to fix what GM knew to be a known ignition switch problem.
Based on what we have learned from early discovery in the Melton case, and from other sources, I am convinced the General Motors cover-up is one of the most massive cover-ups in history by an automaker of a known safety related design defect. In this case, as a result of the cover-up, hundreds have been killed, with hundreds, if not thousands, of people injured. As one of the trial team that secured the landmark verdict against Toyota for its sudden unintended acceleration problems, I am all too familiar with the cover-up game the automakers play all too often. The General Motors cover-up is on a par with the massive cover-up by Toyota of its sudden acceleration safety problems. General Motors knew about the defect shortly after the ignition switch was designed – had actual knowledge of both test failures and real world failures and highway crashes – and did not report its findings to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or recall millions of affected vehicles.
By law, automobile manufacturers must inform NHTSA of a safety defect within five business days of discovering it and promptly submit a recall plan. GM has repeatedly denied it knew of the ignition switch defect before launching a recall in February. That’s simply not true. GM has repeatedly blamed the delay on a broken corporate structure and incompetence rather than willful neglect. We expect to prove in the Melton case that GM was guilty of both wanton conduct and a massive cover-up that was responsible for more than 300 deaths and several hundred injuries.
In a most interesting development, for the first time since General Motors’ ignition switch design flaw was announced, former GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio spoke to a New York Times reporter about his role in the cover up. As we have mentioned previously, there is no doubt that Mr. DeGiorgio lied under oath depositions in the Melton case before the case was settled. But there is no doubt that DeGiorgio was not the only person privy to the ignition switch change as far back as 2006. Thus far the Melton discovery efforts have been most helpful in our search for the real truth about the cover-up and there is more to come.
Anybody who believes that Ray DeGiorgio was a lone wolf or just a rogue engineer at General Motors who acted without supervision is badly mistaken. When the Melton case is tried, we will be able to prove that DeGiorgio’s actions, as well as his inactions, involving the defective switch were known to a good number of persons at GM. The massive cover-up of the safety defect that followed will include some very interesting folks at GM. It’s time for GM to come clean with the government, the courts and the American people.
GM’s defective ignition switch has prompted the recall of more than 17 million vehicles to date. As we all now know, the ignition switch problem can leave a vehicle without power and the driver unable to control the vehicle in sudden and dangerous situations. Investigations have revealed GM knew about the ignition switch defect for 11 years before disclosing it to safety regulators and the public. During that time over 300 innocent people were killed because of GM’s massive cover-up.
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