(Adds details on Congressional hearings, Texas lawsuit against
GM, GM returning "black box" from 2010 crash that killed woman)
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, March 24 Pressure built on General
Motors on Monday to take steps to get 1.6 million of its
recalled cars off the road immediately and to establish a
compensation fund for consumers affected by the company's faulty
ignition switches linked to 12 deaths.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who characterized some GM
vehicles as "lethally defective," asked the Department of
Justice to force GM to set up the fund.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the top U.S.
law enforcement official, Blumenthal wrote: "I urge that DOJ
require that GM establish a fund to fully compensate consumers
who suffered injury, death or damage" stemming from the
malfunctioning ignition switches.
Those switches, a problem for more than a decade before
recalls began last month, can cause automobile engines and
safety equipment to shutdown unexpectedly.
Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee,
which will investigate GM's handling of the recalls for the
Also on Monday, two GM customers asked a federal judge in
Texas to force GM to advise customers to immediately stop
driving the recalled cars, including the 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt
model that they own, until repairs are made.
GM maintains that the cars are safe to drive if operators
use only the ignition key and remove any fobs or extra items
that might cause the ignition switch to move from the "run"
In a sign that GM was bowing to pressure from Washington
lawmakers, the company promised to return a "black box" taken
from a crash that killed a 21-year-old Pennsylvania woman in
2010. The vehicle's device, like an airplane's black box, could
contain important information on how the car was functioning in
the moments leading up to the crash.
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania last week wrote to GM
demanding the return of the black box, complaining that the
victim's family had been unable to get the Detroit automaker to
respond to their requests.
Congressional hearings into GM's actions, as well as federal
regulators' performance, are set to begin on April 1 before a
House Energy and Commerce panel. GM Chief Executive Officer Mary
Barra is scheduled to testify.
A Senate committee hearing date has not yet been set but is
expected in early April.
CURRENT AND EX-GM OFFICIALS TESTIFY?
Blumenthal, in his letter to Holder, said the compensation
fund could be applied even as the DOJ conducts a criminal
investigation of GM.
In a telephone interview, Blumenthal, a former state
attorney general, also said he wanted to hear testimony on the
recalls "from GM officials who had knowledge and responsibility,
which could include upper management, both current and past."
But the decision on who will be called to testify likely
will be made by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John
Rockefeller of West Virginia and Senator Claire McCaskill of
Missouri, who chairs the subcommittee that will conduct the
Consumer groups already have called on GM to establish a
GM spokesman Jim Cain would not comment on Blumenthal's
Cain noted that the new GM, which emerged from bankruptcy,
"did not assume liability for claims arising from incidents or
accidents occurring prior to July 2009."
But he also said, "Our principle throughout this process has
been to put the customer first, and that will continue to guide
Blumenthal also asked Holder to intervene in pending civil
actions stemming from the recall "to oppose any action by GM to
deny responsibility for consumer damages on grounds that those
damages may have resulted from deceptive and fraudulent
concealment and other misconduct by GM."
(Additional reporting by Jessica Dye in New York and Ben
Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio
and Lisa Shumaker)