Product Liability

“Incompetence and neglect” drove GM’s handling of defective ignition switch, report finds

GM logo “Incompetence and neglect” drove GM’s handling of defective ignition switch, report findsGeneral Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra responded Thursday morning to the findings of an internal investigation led by lawyer Anton Valukas into the company’s handling of an ignition switch defect, saying that the probe found “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” within the company.

“I can tell you, this report is extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling,” Ms. Barra said of Mr. Valukas’ conclusions. “For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to see our shortcomings laid out so vividly. As I read the report, I was deeply saddened and disturbed.”

The investigation encompassed more than 350 interviews, 230 individuals, and 41 million documents. Ms. Barra said that the investigators were given unlimited access to interview any employee in GM about the ignition switch, which is blamed for causing the deaths of at least 13 people and injuring dozens more.

GM first discovered problems with the ignition switch in some of its compact cars as early as 2001, but failed to recall the part or notify federal regulators until 2014. The company continually failed to fix the problem even as it received complaints that certain vehicles were suddenly losing power.

The ignition switch defect is small but deadly. It allows the car keys to jostle vehicles into the “accessory” or “off” position, cutting power to the steering, brakes, and airbags while the car is in motion.  GM says that 47 crashes can be attributed to the defect, but safety groups and trial lawyers believe that figure is much higher and put the death toll closer to 60.

The automaker finally started recalling vehicles affected by the part in February. The recall began with about 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 small cars. It later expanded to include 2.6 million vehicles total, including the Ion, HHR, Solstice, and Sky.

Ms. Barra called GM’s handling of the defective part “unacceptable” and said that the investigation report “highlights a company that operated in silos, with a number of individuals seemingly looking for reasons to not act instead of finding ways to protect our customers.”

To address some of the administrative and organizational problems underscored by the report, Ms. Barra said that GM has terminated 15 employees, many of them in the company’s top ranks, and disciplined five others.

The company is also establishing a compensation fund for victims harmed by ignition switch crashes and their families. The fund will be overseen by Kenneth Feinberg, who was notably involved in the compensation fund for victims of the BP oil spill. Feinberg will determine victim eligibility for claims.

Ms. Barra told employees gathered at the conference they should remember the company’s failures and the way they harmed customers.

“We will do the right thing for those who were harmed,” she said. “and we’ll accept responsibility for our mistakes and commit to doing everything within our power to make sure this never happens again.”


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