The families of those who were needlessly injured or killed as a result of defective GM ignition switches are justifiably outraged that the manufacturer knew about these issues, and seemingly covered them up for the better part of a decade. The company is coming under fire for the dozens of accidents that led to driver fatalities across the country.
What’s Next for GM?
One of the family members of a victim, Leo Ruddy, says that prison sentences for those involved are the only way that future individuals and families will be protected. Lawmakers raised concerns about the ignition switches recently by questioning GM CEO Mary Barra about evidence that points back to company’s knowledge of the problem as far back as 2006.
An auto safety watchdog group says that the company was very aware of the problem with the ignition switches but made little to no effort to fix the problem or even make the public aware of what might happen for drivers in specific vehicles. The group also alleged that this was connected to a recent rash of GM airbag failures, pointing out that there are clearly some safety issues regarding the company as a whole that need to be explored.
Last week, hearings were held in Washington where family members of victims listened in. According to company records, an employee back in 2006 tried to purposely conceal the ignition problem. Even if employees or the company concealed information, it’s not clear whether criminal charges would be the next step. The reason is related to the burden of proof in these kinds of cases.
Burden of proof refers to the threshold that a plaintiff must prove in court in order for a fact to be established legally. In criminal cases, the prosecution is responsible for proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the plaintiff bears the responsibility for proving his or her case through a preponderance of evidence — what is more probably true than not true.
In cases like this one, there’s a major different between presenting a case to a jury and presenting a case to a congressional committee. Although a source indicates that a Justice Department probe into General Motors is already happening, prosecutors face an extremely high burden of proof for criminal wrongdoing in these types of cases.
Family members of victims say they just want answers about why GM chose not to act sooner to fix the failed ignition switches and inform the public about this safety hazard.
It’s difficult to prove that people made purposely false statements regarding the vehicles and their safety, and the documents that show company-wide knowledge about failed ignition switches might not be admissible as evidence against individual people. This could be treated the same way as a recent case involving Toyota, when no charges were brought forth against the company after several years of investigation.
Was There A Cover-up?
Senators accused at least one GM employee of a cover-up last week. A lead switch engineer on the Chevrolet Cobalt, Ray DeGiorgio, said that he never approved any changes to the ignition switch. Later documents revealed that DeGiorgio had actually signed off on a replacement, even though that switch had the same product number. Being caught in a lie like this could make this employee more vulnerable to individual prosecution.
Clearly, dishonesty that lead to loss of life and serious injury is at play here. These are automobile accidents that could have been prevented, and GM should have more consequences to bear. Families need to be compensated for their loss at the negligent hands of a corporation concerned about profit more than people. If you or loved one are seriously injured or lives have been loss in an automobile accident involving a faulty or defective part, you deserve compensation. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Consult with Passen & Powell to fight for your rights and win. Call us for a Free Consultation at 312-527-4500.