Wednesday

General Motor's Ignition Switch Nightmare

Steve Moskos, South Carolina Lemon Lawyer
My good friend, Steve Moskos, a dedicated lemon law attorney in South Carolina reminded me of a few things about the current General Motors ignition switch recall which has turned into a public relations nightmare for GM - perhaps deservedly so. I'll repeat his comments here, which seem to be extraordinarily well-taken. 

Automotive News is reporting that in today’s Congressional hearing, GM executive McCaskill accused a General Motors engineer of lying about his role in the 2006 redesign of the flawed ignition switch that now is linked to 13 deaths. It should now be obvious to everyone that GM “chose to conceal, rather than disclose” this deadly safety defect for more than seven years. Meanwhile, people drove GM cars and some died because of GM's decision. 
 
On Tuesday, House lawmakers released a document from April 2006 showing that GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio authorized the redesign of the now-recalled switch. But DeGiorgio later denied it in in an April 2013 deposition where told a consumer lawyer representing the family of a Georgia woman who was killed when her 2005 Cobalt crashed that he didn’t approve any changes to the ignition switch in 2006. Seems his memory is a little loose. 

(c) McSwain Engineering
Meanwhile, the Herald Tribune newspaper reported that by the time attorneys started taking depositions from GM engineers in April 2013, an independent engineer in Florida had documented the part change thoroughly. In one deposition, a consumer lawyer confronted Raymond DeGiorgio, the head switch engineer on the Chevrolet Cobalt, with the differences between the original switch and the replacement. While DeGiorgio said he saw the differences, he could not explain why the part had been changed without a corresponding change in its identification number.  Policy requires a change in the part number whenever the design is changed, according to reports appearing in numerous media outlets.

"I was not aware of a detent plunger switch change," he said. "We certainly did not approve a detent plunger switch change." 

As Steve Moskos reminds us, this is precisely why lemon lawyers need to hold manufacturers accountable. Court rules require defendants in court cases to disclose what they know - including what they have tucked away in places they don't want anyone to look. It's called "discovery" by the legal system and General Motors now is seen to have had a long practice of hiding the truth from consumers, their lawyers, the courts, and even the federal safety investigators in charge of motor vehicle safety standards and investigations in this county. GM and its lawyers were required to comply with the law in the litigation process. 

All defendants, like GM, are required to speak the truth in court papers and in lawsuits. What we have here is a perfect example of the idealism of the court process with the warped "money first" real-world viewpoint of some large corporations in America. You can't put a corporation in jail for telling lies to judges and juries and the government itself because a corporation only exists on paper, technically. And that may be one reason why you have to do something more. You have to take away the one and only thing that Big Corporations care about, apparently more than anything else.

If federal safety investigators are smart, they will use the Toyota financial penalty as the yardstick by which to measure how to punish GM for its decision to save 57 cents per part and let its customers run the risk of getting killed in their Chevy. For the families of those people who died, the lives lost were worth a lot more than 57 cents.

The entire GM debacle is a reminder that the corporate greed problem that we saw with the Ford Pinto's exploding gas tank, has not really gone away at all. And it won't go away until Congress changes it. And Congress won't change it until American voters make Congress do it. 


Burdge Law Office
Helping consumers protect themselves since 1978