General Motors’ legal department was a topic of concern during Thursday’s Senate Commerce panel hearing which heard testimony from GM CEO Mary Barra, GM attorney Anton Valukas, Delphi CEO Rodney O’Neal, and GM’s top lawyer Michael Millikin.
Many of the questions asked by members of the Senate Commerce subcommittee centered on communication failures in GM’s legal department and how, exactly, the company’s lead attorney, Michael Millikin, was never made aware of an ignition switch defect that is responsible multiple deaths, despite evidence of the defect being in the hands of his own legal team.
During the hearing, it was revealed that by 2010 General Motors’ legal department was aware of several lawsuits concerning now recalled vehicles which carried a potential for punitive damages – exemplary monetary compensation awarded to an injured party with the intent of punishing a defendant for particularly negligent or malicious actions.
Further, documents presented by panel members showed that GM had received multiple complaints and death inquiries from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) but failed to properly address the inquiries and concerns. Instead, the automaker issued responses which indicated that the information requested by the regulator was protected by attorney client privilege and sent notices that GM had opted not to respond to the inquiries.
“How in the world in the aftermath of [the GM internal] report did Michael Millikin keep his job?” – Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo as published by the Detroit News
During the hearing, multiple panel members expressed concern that Millikin is still employed by GM, indicating that the top lawyer should have been terminated following the numerous failures in his legal department.
While Millikin blamed the failures on “poor information flow,” panel members suggested that the lack of communication is a direct result of Millikin’s leadership. The Detriot News reports Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, commented that additional changes needed to be made to the GM legal team, stating that instead of ensuring that GM abided by legal obligations, the automakers’ lawyers enabled cover-up and fraud.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., stated that she was shocked that Millikin had not known of the complaints and death inquiries filed by NHTSA, despite serving as general counsel for the GM.
Thomas J. Henry is representing more than 1,000 GM recall victims across the United States and has been investigating injuries and deaths linked to the recall since day one. The firm launched a nationwide media investigation into the recall in April, which brought forth thousands of affected individuals who had information critical to the investigation – information that the firm has handed over to federal agencies also investigating GM’s sluggish response the recall.
As more and more individuals have flocked to Thomas J. Henry for representation, the firm has continued to push GM for a victim settlement fund. The firm has had several talks with GM’s victim compensation expert Ken Feinberg regarding appropriate victim compensation for the thousands affected by a fatal design flaw in ignition switches which left numerous dead and countless others seriously injured.