GM now accused of neglect beyond ignition switch

Written by New York Times | Updated: Oct 17 2014, 06:51am hrs
Lawyers in sweeping class-action litigation against General Motors have significantly broadened their case against the embattled automaker, claiming that the company disregarded and concealed safety issues far beyond the defective ignition switch that is now linked to 27 deaths.

In a strongly worded complaint, filed late Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, the lawyers contend that the new GM that emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 so valued cost-cutting that it produced an inordinate number of vehicles with serious safety defects, which it has sought to remedy only this year with the recall of about 27 million vehicles in the US.

The 700-page filing serves as a master complaint for a consolidation of 68 cases seeking class-action status that have been brought around the country on behalf of owners of newer-model GM cars seeking compensation for the lost value of their vehicles in light of the safety issues.

It is the latest volley in a complex game of legal maneuvering, centering on the ignition switch defect, that could continue for years.

While the complaint offered little new evidence of a vast cover-up, it heightened an already bitter confrontation even suggesting that the companys chief executive, Mary T Barra, knew about one of the safety problems in a previous job.

The array of concealed defects is astounding, the plaintiffs lawyers wrote in the complaint. They added: The defects affected virtually every safety system in GM-branded vehicles, including but by no means limited to the air bags, seatbelts, brakes, brake lights, electronic stability control, windshield wipers, sensing and diagnostic modules, and warning chimes.

In an emailed statement, GM said that it intends to vigorously defend against plaintiffs claims that GM vehicles have reduced resale value.

The complaint was made as part of so-called multidistrict litigation that is being overseen by Judge Jesse M Furman, and was submitted by the three lawyers whom Judge Furman has appointed to serve as the lead lawyers for all plaintiffs Steve W Berman, Elizabeth J Cabraser and Robert C Hilliard.

It drew much of its damaging material from the report prepared by the former United States attorney Anton R. Valukas for GMs board and senior management. That report was sharply critical of GMs culture and described instances in which the companys engineers, product developers and legal department overlooked or failed to act on safety concerns.

Based on documents and communications with the federal safety regulators, the complaint cited a number of cases in which it contended that recalls for a documented safety problem were limited or late, or warranty claims were ignored as with recalls for axle shafts that could break and a defect in a shift cable that could cause cars to roll out of park and crash.

The complaint used a previously disclosed email to Barra to suggest the companys knowledge of safety problems stretched to the highest levels.