Dangerous Product Update: GM Ignition Switch Case - Victim’s Compensation Fund?

Lawmakers and victims have joined together calling for General Motors to set up a victim’s compensation fund for those impacted by the defective ignition switches that have caused serious and fatal auto accidents. According to U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection and product safety, “it is now time for them to come clean, be transparent and most of all make all victims whole no matter when this deadly ignition caused heartbreak in their families…”  The Senator was quoted in this Chicago News Tribune story which detailed the need for restitution with the families and, possibly, criminal charges for those responsible.

Why the tough talk?  Because it appears from the recently revealed evidence that GM intentionally misled government regulators and its customers.  Remarkably, GM decided not to replace the switch in 2005 when it could have at cost of about $1 per car. In 2006, GM changed the faulty ignition switch in some cars, but did not change its identifying part number, which McCaskill said showed an intent to deceive.  At least 13 people were killed in accidents caused by switches that shut down cars.  McCaskill said on ABC’s This Week “You don’t need an investigation to understand that they had a defective switch and someone at GM in the engineering department changed that switch and didn’t change the part number. There is no reason to keep the same part number unless you’re trying to hide the fact that you’ve got a defective switch out there that in fact ended up killing a number of people on our highways.”

According to TIME, GM chief executive Mary Barra last week testified before Congress that “the company is considering compensating families” of the 13 people who died in accidents caused by faulty ignition switches in its Cobalt and other small-engine vehicles. Perhaps she is thinking this is generous of GM.  Hardly.