Lawyers Say GM Covered Up Ignition Switch Problem

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Two attorneys believe materials provided by General Motors show the ignition fiasco was intentional.

Lawyers working with a couple who received a large settlement and a major payout from the General Motors ignition fault victims fund told Automotive News and other outlets yesterday they believe they can prove the decade that the automaker spent ignoring and denying ignition related problems was not the result of incompetence as an investigation has been suggested but was, instead, the result of a cover-up. Lance Cooper of Georgia, who, with Jere Beasley of Alabama, represented Ken and Beth Melton, in their suits against the automaker, think the paperwork – “millions” of documents – shows that GM knew about the ignition switch problem and conducted a decade-long cover-up.

The Meltons filed suit against GM in the name of their daughter Brooke whose Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the vehicles heavily affected by the recall, was serviced just before her 2010 fatal crash. Their suit forced GM to go public with news of the faulty ignition switches. The automaker settled the suit, one of two brought by the couple, for $5 million in 2013. The Meltons launched a second suit against the automaker alleging fraud in the ignition fiasco, however, they dropped the action after they were approached by the lawyer running the victims compensation fund, Ken Feinberg. Feinberg suggested that the couple file for a claim just before the January deadline. Within a week the couple’s claim was approved. Although there was no discussion of the amount of the award, it is likely to be in the $1 million range as other awards have been, the trade paper noted.

So far, the faulty GM ignition switches have been blamed for 67 deaths and 113 injuries, based on those approved for fund payouts. Automotive News reported that there were still 1,500 claims awaiting processing.

Cooper and Beasley, in a conference call yesterday, said the previously confidential documents may be the opening of a whole new round of questions that will ultimately show the automaker was involved in a coverup. The automaker had conducted an internal review, led by former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas that indicated that the delay in reporting the costly ignition switch recall was the result of incompetence. The probe found that incompetence, not an intentional cover-up, was the reason that so many vehicles remained on the road for so long. Thirteen employees were fired by the automaker in the wake of the probe.

The materials that were turned over to the Melton’s team of attorneys may be the “smoking gun” in the ignition controversy. The automaker turned the information over to the legal team as part of the discovery process in the case. Now, the lawyers indicated, that the documents have proven that there was an intentional cover-up and they intend to question former and current GM employees on a range of questions arising from the papers.

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