The saga that is General Motors and its faulty ignition switches is getting ready to ramp up as a Texas lawyer will begin deposing 35 GM executives, including CEO Mary Barra, in May.
Texas-based lawyer Robert Hilliard who was appointed by Federal Judge Jesse Furman as the co-lead counsel for the national GM ignition switch litigation, which may be the largest single product liability case in U.S. history, is kicking off his depositions next month.
He’ll begin with Alicia Boler-Davis on May 6 and conclude with Barra on Oct. 8. GM has declined to comment on the case. Hilliard’s case may be bolstered by the automaker’s recent settlement with the family of Brooke Melton, the 29-year-old nurse who died in 2010 while driving one of GM’s vehicles equipped with one of the faulty switches.
Lance Cooper, the Melton family’s attorney, said his firm came across evidence – emails and conversation transcripts – showing that high-level executives knew about the problem with the switches and failed to do anything about it. This is contrary to claims made by the automaker and in the Valukas Report, a report commissioned by GM to investigate what happened and who was responsible.
“They knew it was a safety issue but chose to ignore it,” said Lance Cooper, during a press conference announcing a second settlement agreed to by the Melton family.
According to Cooper, those documents were not submitted to Anton Valukas, the former U.S. attorney the automaker hired to investigate the problem. He exonerated senior GM executives and blamed the problem on poor communication and other factors.
(Bankruptcy judge may rescind GM’s liability shield. For more, Click Here.)
“Valukas chalked it up to incompetence,” Cooper said. “It was a cover-up.”
Cooper did not provide any details about which executives knew about the problem because the documents were produced under seal. However, Hilliard expects to gain access to those documents and he believes they’ll be a crucial element in forging ahead with a lawsuit.
(Click Here for details about GM’s alleged cover up.)
However, he’s also aware that the deposition of GM employees may not net him anything.
“Ms. Barra and other GM employees will face tough questions, subject to perjury. If they dodge or crawfish in their answers then they will face the consequences,” said Hilliard in a statement. Yet, he added that, should GM’s lawyers instruct their witnesses to not answer questions and plead the Fifth Amendment, then “we may never know the full breadth of this cover up.”
Hilliard not only took aim at the automaker, he put the company’s law firm, King & Spalding as well as other outside counsel, on notice as well.
(To see more about GM’s compensation fund claims, Click Here.)
“If the biggest law firms in the country helped GM cover up the cover-up then the game changes and the targets shift,” Hilliard said. “GM pays the world’s biggest law firms millions of dollars, and if some of that money was paid to help with this ‘massive cover-up’ then those firms have their fingerprints on the defective ignition switches and the blood of thousands of young victims on their hands.”
According to Hilliard, should these allegations prove to be true, then this conduct could very well fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, (RICO) which provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.