Natasha Weigel, left, and Amy Rademaker were passengers in a Chevrolet Cobalt in 2006 driven by Megan Ungar-Kerns. They were on a highway in St. Croix, Wis. on Oct. 24, 2006 when the accident occurred killing Natasha and Amy. / Family photos, Detroit Free Press
A trip to Wal-Mart came to a tragic end for three young Wisconsin girls in the fall of 2006. Megan Ungar-Kerns, age 17, was driving a 2005 GM Chevy Cobalt, with Natasha Weigel, age 18, and Amy Rademaker, age 15, on board. As the friends headed home from the store along a rural highway, the Chevy Cobalt's ignition switch unexpectedly failed—disabling the car's power steering, brakes and airbags. The vehicle hit a raised driveway and became airborne for nearly 40 feet before ultimately slamming into a telephone pole and some trees. The car's airbags never deployed.
Amy sustained 38 injuries and died within five hours of the crash. Natasha went into a coma and died 11 days later. Megan survived, but suffered severe brain damage. In an instant, the course of three young lives derailed. No clear explanation was readily available as parents desperately questioned the reason why the girls' lives were cut short.
Investigators had one clue: the Chevy Cobalt's ignition switch, they found, was set to "Accessory" and not "Run." The exact meaning if this, however, would remain a mystery until February of 2014, when GM issued a massive auto recall that included the 2005 Chevy Cobalt, for its defective ignition switch. The girls' families would then able to connect the dots to discovery that GM was responsible for the senseless tragedy involving these three young friends.
But what did CEO Mary Barra and General Motors actually know about the 2.6 million defective ignition switches that have claimed the lives of at least 100 people, caused a massive auto recall and resulted in the largest products liability case in U.S. History? GM's official story admits incompetence. Ms. Barra has hidden behind assertions of ignorance throughout the controversy, claiming that she only learned of the defects shortly before the company issued a massive recall in February of 2014.
Yet serious allegations have surfaced, claiming that GM executives were not only aware of the ignition switch defects but also took deliberate steps to conceal them from the public. The millions of faulty ignition switches create highly dangerous, and sometimes lethal, driving conditions such as stalled vehicles and disabled airbags, power steering and brakes. The cars affected include the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice and Pontiac G5.
Bob Hilliard, Founding Partner at Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales LLP, who is currently one of only three Co-Lead Counsel in the national GM litigation and is solely primarily responsible for all death and personal injury claims, was one of the first attorneys in the U.S. to take-on GM after the massive recall. Along with his legal team, Hilliard has initiated the process of uncovering the truth about a GM cover-up. The team is currently taking the depositions of key employees and former employees of General Motors, including CEO Mary Barra and other senior executives.
Barra has come under fire after internal GM documents came to light, indicating that GM executives not only knew about the faulty ignition switches but also took steps to conceal them from the public. According to Hilliard, "This is the first time GM employees will be forced to answer tough questions under oath about the specific details of the documents and about their role in these deaths and injuries."
According to an open letter by Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, the documents reveal that in 2001, GM rejected a safer ignition switch design based on cost considerations. The safer more costly design is similar to the ignition switch GM ultimately installed after the recall.
"This cover-up was never going to remain secret," said Hilliard. "Until GM executives are being made to wear orange jumpsuits there can be no full justice for the thousands of victims."
What started as a story of gross incompetence could turn out to be much worse. GM's prior knowledge of these ignition switch defects reveals an inhumane and shallow corporate culture that values corporate profits far above the safety and welfare of clients and their families. "The only thing that stands between the individuals responsible and exposing them is the ticking of the clock," said Hilliard. "We can say that this snake is like Medusa, with many heads."
ABOUT HMG Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP (HMG) specializes in mass torts, personal injury, product liability, commercial and business litigation, and wrongful death. The firm has won approximately $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts for its clients. Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP has been successfully representing clients in the United States and Mexico since 1986.
HMG is actively seeking to represent other victims of GM's defective vehicles. Click here to learn more.