GM engineer lied about defective switch in deposition testimony

A Congressional committee investigating General Motors’ recall of 2.6 million cars released documents showing that a GM engineer apparently lied under oath when he testified that he was unaware of design changes in an allegedly defective ignition switch. The committee released the documents on April 11.

The hundreds of pages of documents, e-mails and reports show how GM was worried about the cost of redesigning and replacing the allegedly defective ignition switch. Last year, the engineer in question testified under oath in a deposition in a product liability lawsuit that he was unaware of any redesign of the switches, but in a document dated January 9, 2006, the engineer thanked a supplier for sending 24 new switches to test. The engineer has been suspended by GM.

The defective ignition switches have been blamed for 13 deaths. According to plaintiffs’ attorneys, the switch would unexpectedly cause a vehicle to lose power, a very dangerous situation on a high-speed freeway. The switches were used by GM in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions. The documents released by the committee demonstrate the lengths to which corporations will go to avoid the costs of correcting a known design defect, even when the defect makes the vehicle dangerous to operate.

The engineer’s false testimony under oath is but one example of the common strategies by defendants in product liability lawsuits to hide defects and shield manufacturers from liability for such defects. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have learned to reject such denials and misstatements and to dig deeper for evidence that the manufacturer knew about the defect in question and about the hazards it created for innocent consumers.

Source: Bloomberg, “GM Said to Put DeGiorgio, Altman on Paid Leave for Recall,” Tim Higgins, April 10, 2014