Beasley Allen Founding Shareholder Jere L. Beasley says the announcement Thursday that federal prosecutors are issuing grand jury subpoenas related to delays and mismanagement at General Motors (GM) in its handling of its ignition switch defect indicate criminal charges are likely. The subpoenas were issued after documents released by the House congressional inquiry panel called into question GM’s account of who knew about the ignition switch defect – which it admits is linked to 13 deaths and independent investigators say caused many more – and when they knew it. GM has tried to hang the blame on one engineer, Raymond De Giorgio, and denies senior executives knew about the problem. Beasley has believed all along that GM executives were aware of potentially deadly safety defects surrounding the ignition switch in its vehicles for more than 10 years.
“The folks at GM, to the top levels of the automaker, know their actions are going to come to light,” Beasley says. “They are nervous in the board room, and all the way to the executive suite, and they ought to be. You can’t cover up known defects and lie to the government and to your customers and expect to get away with it. The truth is going to come out, and I predict that some folks are going to jail,” he said.
This litigation, following on the heels of the Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration litigation that settled last October after a record jury verdict against Toyota, ought to spotlight the fact that automakers are not effectively regulated, Beasley says. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tasked with overseeing safety in the auto manufacturing arena, is woefully underfunded and understaffed, and automakers know how to play the system to their advantage, Beasley says.
“It is time to get the attention of the automakers and clean up the regulatory system,” Beasley says. “The public will not stand for this sort of thing any longer. These huge corporations are clearly prioritizing their profits above the safety of the public, their customers, and people are dying. It has got to stop. We have seen two automakers – Toyota and now GM – cover up a known, serious safety problem for years, before they finally got caught.”
The ignition switch in the recalled GM vehicles may move from the “run” position to the “off” or “accessory” position, disabling power steering and brakes during operation, also possibly deactivating the airbags. In February 2014, only after evidence emerged in a wrongful death lawsuit proving GM had longstanding knowledge of the ignition switch defect, did the company start recalling its affected vehicles. That initial recall now encompasses 2.6 million vehicles, and GM admits to 13 deaths related to the defect. Earlier this month, GM announced it is recalling an additional 3.4 million midsize and large cars for the same ignition switch defect.
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Times Daily – Attorney Expects Criminal Charges in GM Case