| June 5
June 5 Plaintiffs' lawyers have begun scouring
General Motors Co's report on its handling of faulty ignition
switches that have been tied to 13 deaths and say they are
finding details that could bolster their negligence cases.
On Thursday, GM released the results of an internal
probe that GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said found a
pattern of "incompetence and neglect" at the company but "no
conspiracy by the corporation to cover up the facts."
None of the lead plaintiffs' lawyers in the GM cases said
they expected to find a "smoking gun" in the company's own
report that would be transformative for the litigation.
Yet several said their preliminary review of the report
provided dozens of names of employees - from engineers to
lawyers - whose individual failure to act on knowledge of the
switch problems pointed to the company's collective negligence.
Since GM first acknowledged the defect and began to recall
cars in February, it has been hit by dozens of lawsuits filed
on behalf of individuals injured or killed in crashes involving
recalled vehicles. In addition, more than 70 lawsuits have been
filed by customers who said the recall caused their cars to lose
Proving negligence is a key element in the GM lawsuits,
which rest in part on the legal theory that GM had an obligation
to tell the public and regulators about the switch defect.
Instead, the lawsuits claim, the company repeatedly missed
chances to address the problem, leaving unsafe cars on the road.
While the report by law firm Jenner & Block said the highest
ranking GM officials were unaware of the faulty ignition
switches, that "ignores the fact that the company as a whole is
responsible," said Adam Levitt, a lawyer at Grant & Eisenhofer
who represents GM customers who are suing the company.
Asked for comment, a GM spokesman referred to Barra's
earlier remarks that the company has acknowledged its
responsibility for the switch defect and is setting up a
compensation fund for victims.
Lawyers said that names, dates and other key facts from the
300-page report will likely find their way into civil lawsuits -
just as after investigations in other high-profile cases such as
Toyota Motor Corp's recall over acceleration issues.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Robinson of Robinson Calcagnie
Robinson Shapiro Davis pointed to parts of the report describing
one in-house lawyer, William Kemp, as being "widely regarded as
GM's most knowledgeable, experienced and trusted safety lawyer."
In the report, Kemp is said to have had knowledge of the
emerging switch problems for a few years but did not tell GM
General Counsel Michael Milliken until February of this year.
Robinson said that while Kemp was not GM's top lawyer, he
still appeared to have been close enough to top officials to
have taken action. He said this is one of many examples in the
report in which GM employees recognized serious issues, but
never raised them with their superiors.
Kemp was one of the 15 employees who have been fired,
according to a source who asked not to be named. GM declined to
make Kemp available for comment.
Beyond the Jenner & Block report, there are ongoing probes
into GM by federal and state prosecutors, regulators, and
members of Congress.
A person with knowledge of U.S. authorities' criminal
investigation into GM said investigators were not likely to rely
heavily on the version of events laid out in the Jenner & Block
report - which was commissioned by the company itself.
The report may ultimately prove more beneficial to
plaintiffs' lawyers than criminal investigators, who must meet a
higher standard of showing the company's intent to conceal
information about the switch problem - beyond the "incompetence"
and missed opportunities described in the report.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York. Additional reporting by
Emily Flitter. Editing by Ted Botha, Eric Effron and Ken Wills)