Despite no indication of a deliberate cover-up, an internal investigation released on June 5th indicates that some of General Motor’s high-ranking lawyers and executives neglected to address a potentially fatal problem with some of their vehicle’s ignition switches that would cause vehicles to lose power and would deactivate their airbags.
As a result of the investigation led by former United States attorney general Anton Valukas fifteen employees were fired from the company, including three of G.M.’s senior lawyers, two safety executives, two engineers, and the vice president of global affairs, Michael Robinson. G.M.’s uppermost executives were spared from this round of firings, including CEO Mary T. Barra, who described the findings of the report as “deeply troubling.”
During the course of the investigation it was discovered that the defective ignition switch was linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes before G.M. began recalls in February of over 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, among other small vehicles. However, even CEO Barra admits that she expects this number of linked incidents to grow over the coming weeks.
Problems with the faulty ignition switch had been around since at least 2006, but due in part to the unusual levels of secrecy imposed by the G.M. legal department these issues have only recently come to light. Some of the unusual tactics employed by senior lawyers with the company included annual email audits looking for incriminating evidence that could be used against the company as well as banning note taking during safety meetings.
G.M. has been fined $35 million by federal regulators for failing to disclose the defective switch in a timely manner and has settled in five wrongful death suits related to the defect—the most recent plaintiff receiving $5 million dollars from the auto giant.
The investigation included the review of over a million internal documents from G.M. and interviews from over 230 people, most of whom were employees directly tied to the failure to address the problems with the ignition switches.
However, not everyone has been satisfied with the results. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), who was especially critical of CEO Barra during a hearing in April, commented that he was disappointed that the uppermost G.M. executives had escaped culpability in the findings and made implications that money may have factored into this result.
So far, all parties dismissed by G.M. have remained relatively silent about the report and its findings.