GM Held Back Information in NHTSA Inquiries
A recent article in the New York Times shows that General Motors kept information from safety regulators about fatal crashes. The Times article examined several responses from GM to “death inquires” posed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that paint a startling picture.
About the “Death Inquiries”
In 2000, a law was passed that required “automakers to report to regulators any claims they received blaming defects for injuries or deaths.” Additionally, NHTSA was given the authority to submit a “death inquiry”: a request for the automaker to provice documentation of the accident and assessment of the circumstances that led to the crash.
The Times, using the Freedom of Information Act, requested the responses from GM for any death inquiry involving a recalled Chevrolet Cobalt or Saturn Ion and received four such documents.
GM Opts Not to Respond
The responses provided to NHTSA from GM range from claims of not having assessed the cause of the accident to simply opting not to respond. Specifically:
- In the case of a 2004 crash which killed Gene Anderson and eventually led to the conviction of Candace Anderson for criminally negligent homicide, GM said there was not “sufficient reliable information to accurately asses the cause.” However, the Times noted that engineer Manuel Peace had earlier concluded that an engine stall was the likely cause of the crash. GM also told NHTSA that it could not give that information out due to attorney-client privilege and finally that it had not assessed the cause of the accident.
- In a 2009 fatal crash that took the life of Seyde Chansuthus, GM responded that it had not investigated the circumstances of the crash. Again, the Times found that six days prior to that response, GM lawyers had warned that the company “could be liable for punitive damages because air bags in Cobalts were known not to deploy in some cases.”
- GM made similar statements regarding the fatal crash that killed two teen girls, Natasha Weigel and Amy Rademaker, in Wisconsin in 2006. GM’s response to NHTSA included a police report that concluded the ignition switch was to blame. Although GM included the report with its response, only one GM employee ever opened the report.
In other cases, GM simply opted not to respond to the questions.
The Department of Justice is currently investigating the events surrounding the ignition recall. Announced in February and twice expanded, the recall affects over 2 million vehicles with defective ignition switches that can lead to engine stalls and the disabling of safety features such as airbags. Investigations have uncovered documents showing that GM knew about problems with the vehicles for over a decade but failed to take appropriate action. The defect has been publicly acknowledged by GM to have caused at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes.
Thomas J. Henry Represents GM Recall Victims
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.
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