19 August 2019
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announces a record US$35 million fine on GM. Photo: Bloomberg
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announces a record US$35 million fine on GM. Photo: Bloomberg

NY Times: GM legal department eyed in vehicle recall probe

An internal inquiry into how General Motors handled a safety defect linked to 13 deaths will focus on the carmaker’s legal department.

On Friday, US regulators slapped a US$35 million fine on GM for its deayed response to an ignition switch defect in millions of vehicles.  

The largest US automaker first noticed the defect more than a decade ago but issued the first recalls only in February this year despite years of consumer complaints, Reuters reported, citing the New York Times.

The Times said a review of internal documents, e-mails and interviews showed that high-ranking officials “particularly in GM’s legal department, led by the general counsel Michael P. Millikin, acted with increasing urgency in the last 12 months to grapple with the spreading impact of the ignition problem”.

It said a number of GM departments tried to fix the problem after legal threats against senior officials. Company lawyers moved to keep its actions secret from families of crash victims and others.

GM is facing other federal investigations into its handling of the recall, which could produce more severe punishments. The US$35 million is the most the US government can impose, according to the report.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said GM had broken the law and failed to meet its obligations to public safety.

GM’s internal investigation is expected to be completed within the next two weeks. The US Congress, Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and several states are conducting their own investigations.

GM lawyers unexpectedly approved a settlement last September in a lawsuit filed by the family of a Georgia woman who died in a Cobalt crash in 2010. Documents show GM restarted its internal investigation because of information uncovered in the Georgia case, the Times said.

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