Beasley Allen attorney J. Cole Portis attended the congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., this morning, where General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra was once again in the hot seat regarding the automaker’s conduct in handling recalls for a defective ignition switch. Also testifying was former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, who was hired by GM to assemble a report on the automaker’s handling of the defective part. The ignition switch may move from the “run” position to the “off” or “accessory” position, disabling power steering and brakes during operation, also possibly deactivating the airbags. During the questioning, which lasted nearly three hours, members of the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation mentioned time and again the role of attorneys in bringing the potentially deadly auto defect to light.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Georgia) said, “If not for the Brooke Melton lawsuit – she’s in my district – she was killed … would we even know about this ignition switch problem today?”
Brooke Melton was killed in 2010 when she lost control of her Chevrolet Cobalt and crashed. Her parents, Ken and Beth Melton, said the car had experienced an ignition problem prior to her fatal accident, and hired a lawyer to investigate. Lance Cooper of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., discovered the ignition switch defect, and eventually uncovered the fact GM knew about the defect as early as 2001 but did nothing to notify its customers, the public or the government, as it is required to do by law.
Portis said, “The Melton family and my friend, attorney Lance Cooper, initially uncovered shameful deception and intentional cover-up of GM’s defective ignition switch that killed hundreds of people and injured many more. Today, a congressional committee displayed a continued commitment to discover the truth about GM’s conduct over the last decade when GM was manufacturing admittedly defective vehicles. Both Republicans and Democrats were united in their disgust with GM. The committee recognized that it is only beginning to unravel the deception and cover-up that has been in existence at GM for at least the last decade.
“GM encouraged Mr. Valukus to issue his report hurriedly. While the Report is flawed, it is helpful because it provides some additional information that was withheld in the previous litigation involving the defective ignition switch. While Mr. Valukus is finished with his work, the committee and the civil justice system will continue to peel back the layers of incompetence and intentional misconduct committed by GM. We will discover the truth. The ‘lack of safety’ culture at GM that is still in place must be changed before other innocent lives are lost. Our firm, along with Lance Cooper, will continue to fight for families like the Meltons.”
In February 2014 GM finally started recalling its affected vehicles. The initial recall now encompasses 2.6 million vehicles, and GM admits to at least 13 deaths related to the defect. This week, GM announced it is recalling an additional 3.4 million midsize and large cars for the same ignition switch defect.
Watch the full Congressional hearing on CSPAN.