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General Motors' chief executive faces Congress over car recall

What could be worse for any Montana driver than finding out his or her car has a dangerous defect? Knowing that the manufacturer was aware of the defect and kept it under wraps. This is what Congress has been drilling General Motor's new chief executive officer, Mary Barra, about over the past few days. The hearing has been tense and addressed GM's accountability in a serious ignition defect that led to the recall of 2.53 million cars. The defect caused the ignition to unexpectedly shut off, along with the air bags and power assist needed for steering and braking. This flaw was allegedly responsible for 13 deaths and 32 accidents.

The chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, along with Senate and House panel members, expressed disappointment in Barra's perceived lack of leadership and background knowledge about this recall and cover-up. Barra, who is only three months into her new job, claimed that the new GM is more "focused on the customer" instead of its "cost culture" of the past. Although she claims that the problem was addressed by the recall, the subcommittee is not buying it.

When GM went bankrupt and restructured the company in 2009, it was granted protection from liability. However, Barra claims that GM will do "the right thing" and waive its immunity clause to assure victims are paid damages for injuries caused by this product defect. Senators also pressured Barra to fire or discipline anyone involved in the cover-up.

Sometimes the idea of litigation against a car manufacturer can feel intimidating, but no one has to handle it alone. Car manufacturers are large, powerful corporations with tremendous resources at their fingertips. When Montanans are injured by a car or other defective product, they often seek a personal injury attorney to help obtain compensation for their damages, injuries and losses.

After GM's 2009 bankruptcy and resurrection, many injured consumers have questions. Are they out of luck, due to the GM of today being treated in some ways as a separate entity, with immunity to consumer litigation? The technical answer may be "yes." But, in reality, the magnitude of this defect is serious and has affected many lives. In addition, concealing information about defects is fraudulent. The ethical implications of ignoring so many consumers' pain, suffering and wrongful deaths is serious. Congress isn't letting this one go.

Source: USA Today, "Senator: GM engineer lied over deadly ignition switch" James R. Healey and Todd Spangler, Apr. 02, 2014

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