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GM Hiding Behind Bankruptcy Protection on Ignition Switch Recall



General MotorsGeneral Motors has talked the talk.  But it refuses to walk the walk and now GM’s actions speak much louder than its words.

Here’s what GM said:

“Something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened.  We will be better because of this tragic situation if we seize the opportunity.  And I believe we will do just that.”

– GM CEO Mary Barra (via Time Magazine)

Barra also told Congress that GM “will not shirk from our responsibilities now or in the future.  Today’s GM will do the right thing.”

But “shirking” responsibility is exactly what “today’s” GM is doing:

General Motors said in a court filing that it will ask a U.S. bankruptcy judge to bar lawsuits in Texas and California related to its recall for faulty ignition switches, citing the terms of its 2009 bankruptcy.

Automotive News

The Legal Fiction of a “New” GM

Mary Barra spent much of her time testifying before Congress repeatedly insisting there is a “new” GM.  But the “new” GM is a legal fiction.

Even Jon Stewart identified the ridiculousness of GM’s position, asking some pointed questions:  Why would GM have the ability to in any way wait and see how they feel about settling these cases with these clearly wronged families?  How are they not automatically liable for damages?

The Daily Show - GM Bankruptcy

“So once again we learn that not only are corporations people, they’ve got some weird mutant power that allows them to dodge the consequences of their actions.  Because GM declared bankruptcy, they are no longer legally liable for human death they admittedly caused through their negligence.  I cannot wait for a non-corporate person to try that….”

– Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

Slate’s Defense of GM is Offensive and Wrong

A recent defense of GM’s conduct published in the online magazine, Slate, is not just wrong… it’s offensive.  Writing for Slate, Eric Posner, son of noted 7th Circuit Appellate Judge Richard Posner and a law professor at the University of Chicago, defended GM’s conduct in the ignition switch recall.  He wrote:

[E]veryone thinks that GM has put profits over human lives.  But this is a phony scandal.  Though it’s too early to tell for sure…, GM might have acted reasonably under the circumstances.  The premature denunciations are mere grandstanding.

– Eric Posner, In Defense of GM

13 people died.  Actual people.  Human people.  Not corporate people.  Red-blooded American people with fathers, mothers, spouses, children, families, and friends.

Real.  People.  Died.

And Posner has the gall to call this a phony scandal?

CBS featured the families of just a few of the children killed in these defective GM vehicles.

It’s not a question or even a suggestion that GM put profits over human lives.  It is a documented fact.

GM could have fixed the problem for about the cost of a single can of Coke.  One source says 57 cents.  Another source says 90 cents.  Everyone agrees that GM could have fixed the problem for less than $1.00.   But GM chose to not fix the defect because it cost too much.  GM absolutely put profits over human lives.

In March 2005, the engineering manager of the Cobalt closed the case, saying an ignition switch fix would take too long and cost too much and that “none of the solutions represent an acceptable business case.”

CBS Detroit

Posner also tried to use statistics to shore up his argument.  But you know what Mark Twain said about statistics:  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Posner’s attempted use of statistics is just as offensive as the rest of his article.  Essentially, Posner argues that 13 deaths just don’t amount to much.

But try telling that to the families.

Let’s take brief look at the numbers Posner uses.  He says 13 deaths is insignificant and may not have required a recall.  But with the Ford Pinto defect – arguably the most notorious auto defect in memory –  NHTSA identified only 27 deaths.  For the Audi 5000 sudden acceleration recall, NHTSA identified 6 deaths.  For the Toyota Sudden Acceleration recall, NHTSA identified just 5 deaths.

Now, certainly, for each of these defects, there were allegations of much higher numbers of deaths that were proved out in litigation – and there will likely be more GM ignition switch deaths identified as well with some estimating more than 300 ignition switch deaths.

With due respect to Posner and others attempting to defend the indefensible, there is no justification for GM’s failure to fix a deadly problem it had identified long before it ever sold even one of these defective vehicles.  GM knew its vehicle were defective.  GM knew its vehicles would kill.  And GM put them on the road anyway.  And now it’s trying to play its “get out of jail free” card and avoid liability under the legal fiction of bankruptcy protection.

GM’s Sociopathic Tendancies

We know GM is not a “person”.

“Corporations aren’t people.  They can’t know right from wrong. … They have no brains.  They’re legal fictions – pieces of paper filed away in a vault in some bank.”

Robert Reich (Fmr. Sec. of Labor)

GM has no brain.  GM has no heart.  Most significantly, GM has no soul.

No, GM is not a person – unlike the 13 actual people GM admits it killed.

But, for just a moment, let’s embrace the fiction that GM is a corporate “person”.  How would we describe the “person” of GM?

It turns out if GM was an “actual” person, it would likely be considered a sociopath.  A sociopath is described as “a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts.”  Take a look at just some of the 10 signs for spotting a sociopath:

Sociopaths are charming.  Indeed, GM put its public relations machine out at the forefront.  It has said all of the right things to the public, regulators, and members of Congress.

Sociopaths are more spontaneous and intense than other people.  Sociopaths are unbound by normal social contracts and their behavior seems irrational or risky.  GM ignored the basic social contract that people are not supposed to kill other people.  It acted intensely and bizarrely by simultaneously seeming to accept responsibility while at the same time shirking its responsibility under the law.

Sociopaths are incapable of feeling shame, guilt or remorse.  This is likely where GM most completely fits the description of a sociopath.  GM identified a deadly problem before it had sold even one of the defective vehicles.  It analyzed the problem.  And it sold the defective products anyway knowing that people would die.  And then it lied about the problem and covered it up for more than a decade – all without shame, guilt, or remorse.  Now, that GM has been called out publicly for the problem, it still tries to hide behind its bailout from US taxpayers to try and shirk its responsibilities for the death and the harm it caused.

Not only that, but GM has engaged in similar conduct before and continued to do so without remorse.  Long before the ignition switch problem, GM notoriously prepared what is now known as the “Ivey Memo” which calculated how much the company was willing to spend to prevent people from burning alive in a car fire.  According the memo, the company could spend only $2.20 to prevent such fires.  After than, it was more profitable for the company to let people burn to death than to fix the problem.

Sociopaths invent outrageous lies about their experiences.  They wildly exaggerate things to the point of absurdity, but when describing it in a storytelling format, it oftentimes sounds believable at the time.  This describes GM’s action to a “T”.  GM lied to the public.  It lied to NHTSA.  It exaggerated to the point of absurdity, but was able to “sell” its lies for an entire decade.

Sociopaths tend to be highly intelligent.  Without a doubt, GM has some of the most intelligent and capable engineers, executives, and legal personnel in the world.  And despite this – or, perhaps, because of it – GM still moved forward with these defective products knowing full well they would kill people.

Sociopaths are incapable of love and are entirely self-serving.  We know this is true for GM.  Because it is not a human person; it is a corporation.  GM has no soul.  GM, as a for-profit corporation, has a singular goal: to maximize profit and value for its shareholders.  GM is, essentially, the ultimately narcissists – it truly cares only for itself.

What Can You Do?

So what can we do?  We can contact GM and let it know we expect it to stand behind its vehicle and we expect to accept responsibility for its actions.

And we can contact our members of Congress and express our outrage at GM’s attempt to shirk its duty to compensate victims it admits it harmed.  We can express our outrage that a company we bailed out – Government Motors – has now turned its back on the very public that saved it from extinction.

My home-state senator – Claire McCaskill – is one of several on the Hill attempting to hold GM accountable for its actions.  Sen. McCaskill called this a “real moment of truth for General Motors” and called on the auto maker to “come clean, be transparent and most of all make all victims whole….”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal has also been at the forefront of this issuce, calling on the Justice Department to intervene to ensure that all victims are made whole:

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to “immediately intervene on behalf of those injured and killed, and all who suffered damages as a result of faulty ignition switches.”

He also wants the Justice Department to intervene in pending civil actions “to oppose any effort by GM to deny responsibility for consumer damages.”


“Without your active involvement, they may have no meaningful remedy,” Blumenthal wrote.  “Given the crucial role the United States government played in the creation of the current General Motors Corp., I believe the federal government has a moral, if not legal, obligation to take all necessary steps to protect innocent consumers.”

– Detroit News

Eric Posner called the allegation that GM put profits over safety a “phony scandal”.  It’s not.  We know it’s not.  And GM just doubled down on the concept by trying to shirk responsibility to the very people it admits to have killed.

© Copyright 2014 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.


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  2. kelloggs says:
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    They say that it was the old GM problem but what about the fact that all people in gm that were involved in the switch cover up still work of the new GM? What about the fact these same people still hid the details for 5 years as the new GM? What about all the cars they have in this recall that the company sold after the bankruptcy? Seems really strange to me that 5 years later they get rid of their CEO and put a new person in the sit just as this all comes out and than finally the new GM decides to do something.. I have a 2006 Cobalt tht has many more issues than just the switch as does everyone I see online with the colbalt that the new GM is not even addressing. Like then steering column that they are only recalling the last model for. But tons of other year models are having the same issue. I have lost my power steering several times and when I call gm they say my problem they r only recalling 2010s. Then their are many of us having front end problems and gm tells us not safety issue so our problem . But it is another faulty part when so many of us withthat car are having the issue. Then there is a recall I got over the winter stating that if u smell fuel bring ur car in because fuel is leaking into exhaust causing fires..but if u do not smell fuel don’t bring car in ur fine until ur car blows up. Than there is electrical issues in this car theyg r not even addressing. My light in car dim to almost nothing and then come back up thought was battery so replaced the 24 dollar battery and still have issue and now see online so does everyone else with the cobalt. GM should have to pay fornthe lives they took people they hurt and those of us that own these lemons. Old and new gm knew and hid this all for si long they should be heod accountable

  3. Mike Bryant says:
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    They simply don’t care.