General Motors has been thrust into the spotlight after an ignition switch defect was linked to a number of traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths. During a hearing earlier this month, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill asked for answers regarding GM's failures to address a safety problem it knew of 10 years before the recalls. She also questioned officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation about regulation and GM's sluggishness to recall millions of vehicles that had the defect.
McCaskill focused on determining why General Motors did nothing to correct a problem that was causing preventable accidents and harm. To date, the ignition switch defect – which causes power to be shut off from the engine, steering, brakes, and airbags – has been linked to at least 13 deaths. She also provided evidence that GM engineers had discovered the defect years before, in 2004.Despite having known about the defect and risks it posed to consumers, GM did not address the problem. In fact,
the automaker willfully covered up the defect and withheld evidence in cases where victims had been hurt or killed.
Profits Over People
During one part of the hearing – which you can view here – McCaskill detailed the story of a family who filed a lawsuit after a 29-year-old pediatric nurse died after losing control of her vehicle. Attorneys and experts involved in the case found defects that GM engineers found years before and determined that it was the ignition switch defect which led to the woman's death.
When questioned, GM's lead engineer claimed to not have known anything about the defect. It was later discovered, however, that he had knowledge of the defect and GM's attempts to cover up the defective switches by replacing them and using the same part number. As revealed in McCaskill's questioning, the engineer is still employed by GM.
When questioning GM CEO Mary Barra, McCaskill called to attention a timeline of problems, failures to address problems, cover-ups, and preventable tragedies. She stated that it was uncertain how many crashes occurred and how many cases in which evidence was withheld. What was certain, however, was that the ignition switch defect caused many injuries and deaths that could have been prevented.
Holding Corporations Accountable
General Motors is one of the world's largest automakers. Despite having extensive resources, GM did nothing to correct the ignition switch defect, a fix that would have cost approximately 96 cents per vehicle. GM's failures and attempts to cover up such a serious defect caused many to suffer harm and losses and reveal a culture in which
big corporations too often place profits over people.
At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, our Washington, DC personal injury lawyers help victims and families fight back against large corporations and insurance companies. Although GM's case has shown that powerful companies can conceal crucial information about products that harm consumers, it also demonstrates that victims and attorneys have the power to fight back, expose injustice, and hold wrongdoers accountable.