The automaker General Motors has admitted responsibility for the thousands of personal injuries and deaths caused by its faulty ignition switch, which has affected about 30 million GM vehicles. The company will pay $575 million dollars under an agreement related to hundreds of lawsuits for wrongful death and personal injury.
Bob Hilliard, founding partner of Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, who was appointed by a federal judge as one of only three co-lead attorneys in the national case against GM, negotiated this agreement. Mr. Hilliard is the attorney with primary responsibility for handling all cases of wrongful death and personal injuries against GM. According to Mr. Hilliard, this agreement will bring some justice to the victims of 1,385 cases. The defective ignition switch creates extremely hazardous driving conditions including stalled vehicles and disabled air bags, power steering and power brakes.
Since 2014, GM has been involved in a sea of controversy for its massive cover-up of its faulty ignition switch. The company has finally admitted that for over ten years, GM executives knew of these defects and took active steps to conceal them from the public, leading to at least 169 deaths and thousands of injuries.
Lives were taken and families were devastated, and there is no way to ever change that sad fact, Mr. Hilliard said. Still, this agreement will allow some healing, as GM recognizes, through its payment of financial compensation, the needlessness of this enormous national tragedy.
As early as 2001, GM engineers detected the safety defect during production of the Saturn Ion. The car had a tendency to stall during pre-production testing, a problem attributed to its ignition switch. However, the problem was ignored and production continued. In 2005, GM executives went as far as rejecting an alternative switch design, with greater safety mechanisms, claiming it was too costly. By spring 2012, GM executives had full knowledge of fatal accidents and serious injuries linked to the faulty ignition switch. Nonetheless, GM did not disclose information about its lethal ignition switch to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and to customers until February 2014. Car makers are required to disclose safety defects within five days, according to federal safety regulations.
This settlement agreement came just as the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan announced that GM will pay a fine of $900 million to end a federal investigation for charges of wire fraud in connection to its defective ignition switch.
"The mistakes that led to the ignition switch recall should never have happened. We have apologized and we do so again today," said GM CEO Mary Barra. GM has admitted that it "failed to disclose" to regulators the "lethal safety defect" and that it "misled consumers about the safety of GM cars.
"General Motors not only failed to disclose this deadly defect it actively concealed the truth from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the public," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Today's announcement sends a message to manufacturers: Deception and delay are unacceptable, and the price for engaging in such behavior is high."