By on November 25, 2015

 

A federal judge Wednesday denied a request to make available communication between GM and its lawyers over certain cases involving defective ignition switches, Reuters reportedThe documents will remain secret because of attorney-client privilege, the judge wrote.

Lawsuits against GM allege that the company tried to further cover up its defective ignition switches. Those lawsuits sought to uncover documents between the automaker and its lawyers in three separate cases.

“… the case evaluations have all the hallmarks of dispassionate, sober evaluations (perhaps, in hindsight, too dispassionate and sober for their own good) by counsel of the costs and benefits of litigating the cases to their conclusion — just what one would might expect in a defense file and in the absence of a crime or fraud,” Judge Jesse Furman wrote in his ruling.

Furman wrote that the allegations against GM may ultimately be proven in court, but that the plaintiffs didn’t show enough cause to force GM to turn over its communication.

New GM’s and (King & Spalding’s) conduct may well have contributed to the delay in public disclosure of the ignition switch defect. And it may well be that Plaintiffs can ultimately prove (as the criminal charges against New GM certainly suggest) that there was an intentional scheme on the part of some at New GM to conceal the ignition switch defect from the public and NHTSA (and that the confidential settlements served to facilitate that scheme). 

According to the ruling, the plaintiffs already have many documents between GM and their lawyers, and that the automaker was less-than forthcoming with many records relating to the defective switches.

This year, federal regulators announced a $900 million fine against the automaker for the faulty switches installed in Chevrolet, Saturn and Pontiac cars that could disable a car’s safety systems that resulted in 124 deaths.

GM announced a $625 million settlement with affected families earlier this year.

The ruling can be read here.

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8 Comments on “Judge: Communication Between GM, Lawyers About Ignition Switches Can Stay Secret...”


  • avatar
    sonofawat

    I wish this weren’t something the judge had to clarify. GM obviously fucked up, but that doesn’t mean rights must be forfeited.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Actually, it’s something the lawyers need to be reminded of by judges. In their quest for a successful angle of attack, lawyers often stray outside the lines. They do it because they sometimes get away with it. As one lawyer told me, there are two kinds of judges: those with a good legal background, and political appointees in black dresses.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    And nobody at GM will be found personally accountable or liable and so no deterrent will be created and the whole sick charade will occur under slightly different circumstances somewhere sometime again.

    These things since 2000:
    Ford: Firestone tires, TI cruise control sensors: fuel-economy ratings
    Mitsubishi: multiple and various
    Toyota: track bars, floor mats, gas pedals
    Honda: air bags
    Takata: seat-belts, air bags
    GM: ignition switches, EPAS
    Hyundai: fuel-economy ratings
    Chrysler: under-reported fatalities
    VW: NOx, CO2, under-reported fatalities

    The law should be amended banning the use of non-disclosure agreements in settlements connected to injury and death, as well as the settlement agreement to be posted in the NHTSA website. This will put the onus on the OEMs and suppliers to rapidly fix and recall in order to save cost of suits and settlements.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      You left out Ford gaming IIHS crash test results on the F-150.

      Interestingly, the vehicles with the highest Takata airbag failure rate is the Corolla/Matrix/Vibe from 04-07 – an over 2% chance of turning into a Claymore mine.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Attacking attorney-client privilege for the sake of it would be a terrible precedent with widespread repercussions. It would create a chilling effect that would deter attorneys from representing clients; legal representation is a basic right and not one to be messed with.

      Corporations exists precisely to provide liability protections to the individuals within them. If you want to damage the economy and reduce productivity, then getting rid of that protection would be a place to start.

      The better alternative is to regulate companies so that they are less inclined to screw up in the first place. The fine-and-shame strategy used by NHTSA as of late is a much better approach; this makes safety a PR issue to be managed, and companies will work harder because their reputations are on the line.

      The NDAs that are included in civil cases encourage the OEMs to settle, which is good for the victims and expedites the process. The public doesn’t need to have the details in order for there to be better outcomes.

      • 0 avatar

        well said. I would add that someone needs to do jail time, however that result occurs.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        “The NDAs that are included in civil cases encourage the OEMs to settle, which is good for the victims and expedites the process. The public doesn’t need to have the details in order for there to be better outcomes.”

        In other words it is only good for the lawyers and clients who can afford lawyers. Everybody else needs to pay for discovery to find out if their car was negligently designed/built/sold to kill them, or more likely just be killed/maimed without any consequences.

        Just like everything else in America.

      • 0 avatar
        alexndr333

        I agree with Buickman – this is well-stated. What I would be interested in knowing is how the recent Supreme Court decision equating corporations with people might play out in cases like GM’s ignition switches or Takata’s airbags. When a human commits a crime, she or he might be punished by doing time or – in the extreme – forfeiting her / his life. Alternatively, they might find the punishment ‘monetized’ and pay a fine. For corporations, the only penalty is a monetized one – a fine, a compliance action, a PR blitz , etc. What if GM or VW were ‘jailed’ by denying them the ability to sell cars for six months or a year or more? What if they were given the death penalty and forced out of business? As noted, corporations were created to spread the risk. But if they now have separate identities as persons, they are escaping a lot of the consequences of their personshood.

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