GM CEO Questioned in Ignition Lawsuits | News | HMG LLP

GM CEO Barra to be questioned in ignition lawsuits

August 31, 2017

Source:  The Detroit News, by David Shepardson and Melissa Burden

Lawyers suing General Motors Co. over its delayed recall of 2.6 million cars linked to at least 67 deaths plan to question more than three dozen current and former executives including CEO Mary Barra.

Bob Hilliard, appointed to lead the class-action personal injury and death lawsuits against GM, said the depositions of GM executives will begin May 6 with Alicia Boler-Davis, senior vice president of global connected customer experience. The depositions will continue for five months concluding with the deposition of GM CEO Mary Barra set for Oct. 8.

GM CEO Mary Barra

It's not uncommon for the CEO to be deposed last in a major case. "GM is not that interested in or looking forward to producing her for deposition and are just prolonging the inevitable," Hilliard wrote in an email.

The depositions will include many of the 15 former lawyers and executives fired by Barra last year after an internal investigation led by a former U.S. Attorney in Chicago, Anton Valukas. Others to be deposed include David Cary, engineering director, and Maureen Foley-Gardner, director of field performance evaluation.

"This will be the first time GM employees will be made to answer difficult questions under oath about the specific details of the documents and their role in these deaths and injuries," Hilliard said in a statement.

GM spokesman Jim Cain confirmed the company has agreed to the depositions. The ground rules — including how long they last — were negotiated between both sides and will be approved by the judge overseeing the case.

Hilliard, in an email, said GM's former general counsel Michael Millikin and the ignition switch engineer Ray DeGiorgio will be deposed, but dates for those depositions have not been finalized. They could occur in July and August, he said. Cain didn't dispute Hillard.

Others on the list include Doug Parks, now vice president of product programs for GM who was the chief engineer on the Cobalt, and Lucy Clark Daugherty, a deputy for GM's general counsel for the North America region.

"Given the damning documents we have uncovered throughout the course of this litigation, the dance floor is very, very small and no GM witness will be able to shuffle around the truth," Hilliard wrote in an email. "I expect we will find out how high up this coverup goes."

Hilliard says documents turned over by GM raise questions about the internal report. He suggested GM is involved in a coverup of what happened. GM's internal report suggested a culture of "incompetence and neglect" was to blame — not a purposeful effort over years to hide the deadly defect.

"Ms. Barra and other GM employees will face tough questions, subject to perjury," he said in a statement. "If they dodge or crawfish in their answers then they will face the consequences,â"Hilliard added.

Hilliard wants to see emails obtained by Lance Cooper, the attorney in the recently settled Melton case, "that may implicate GM's law firm of King & Spalding as well as other outside counsel in GM's 'massive cover-up,' " he said.

The Valukas report addresses King & Spalding's role in ignition switch lawsuits.

"If the biggest law firms in the country helped GM cover up the coverup, then the game changes and the targets shift," Hilliard said in a statement. "GM pays the world's biggest law firms millions of dollars, and if some of that money was paid to help with this 'massive cover-up,' then those firms have their fingerprints on the defective ignition switches and the blood of thousands of young victims on their hands."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, aided by the FBI and a federal grand jury, has been investigating GM's delayed recall of 2.59 million vehicles for more than 10 months. The Securities and Exchange Commission and 49 state attorneys general are investigating. Canadian officials are also investigating.

GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said in February that legal services tied to the recall totaled about $300 million in 2014 and likely would cost the company about $300 million in 2015.

In May, GM paid a record-setting $35 million fine to NHTSA for the delayed ignition switch recall, and agreed to up to three years of monitoring. Wall Street analysts think GM may eventually need to pay billions to settle government investigations.

In total, GM's victim's compensation fund has approved claims for 67 deaths and 113 injury claims.

The fund's deputy administrator, Camille Biros, said this week that the fund has extended 119 offers; 93 have been accepted and five have been rejected. Biros said 61 payments have been made or are in the process of being made. If a person or victim's family accepts an award, it must give up the right to sue GM.

GM initially said last year that 13 deaths were related to now-recalled Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with ignition switches that can inadvertently shut off the engine and disable power steering and air bags. The automaker delayed recalling the cars for nearly a decade after some within the company became aware there was a problem.

The fund is using a much broader definition to determine if deaths are related to the defect — including pedestrians who may have been killed as a result of a defective GM car.

GM set aside $400 million to pay claims but said it could be as high as $600 million. Stevens last week declined to offer any update on whether the claims would remain in that range.

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