Congress Applauds Victim’s Attorney for Exposing G.M. Cover Up of Deadly Ignition Switch Defect

Prompted by evidence uncovered by a victim’s attorney during litigation, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives held hearings this week to examine G.M.’s misconduct related to a deadly ignition switch defect that caused the deaths of at least 13 people and lead to the recall of more than 2.6 million G.M. vehicles. Before the scandal emerged, G.M. had been quietly settling civil actions brought by the 13 known victims, which included gag-orders in an attempt to bury its wrongdoing from the public. 

Although G.M. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew of the defect for several years, the danger remained hidden until 2013 when it was exposed by the civil justice system. Prior to that lawsuit, neither the corporation nor the regulatory agency took any substantial actions to correct the defect or warn the public. 

The heads of both the corporation and the regulatory agency were called to explain their behavior at the hearings, held on April 1 by the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and on April 2 by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance.

“When corporations act with indifference and government agencies fail, the civil justice system is the only way to shed light on dangerous products and ensure that corporations are held accountable for the harm they cause,” American Association for Justice President Burton LeBlanc said.

In addition to expressing appreciation for the civil justice system in bringing G.M.’s reprehensible conduct to light, members of the committees grilled G.M. CEO Mary Barra on questions including G.M.’s willingness to compensate victims and whether the corporation intends to invoke a provision in its 2009 government bailout agreement that grants it immunity for liability incurred prior to that year. She refused to provide a concrete answer.

The number of injuries and deaths caused by the ignition switch defect is expected to rise.

“The escalating fall-out over the G.M. ignition-switch recall scandal should be a wake-up call to Americans as to why the civil justice system is essential to ensuring our families are safe from dangerous products,” LeBlanc said.