The GM defects: A criminal matter

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The more that's known about General Motors' response — or lack thereof — to faulty ignition switches in some of its cars, the more basis there seems to be for criminal prosecution.

GM, the automaker saved by the American taxpayer, last month recalled 1.6 million 2003-07 Chevrolet Cobalts and other models whose ignition switches could shut off engines, disabling steering, brakes and airbags if bumped or weighed down by heavy keychains. Internal documents show GM dragged its feet for years regarding the problem, The New York Times reports.

GM engineers confirmed the ignition defect at a May 2009 meeting. Since then, 26 people have died in at least 23 crashes in models GM just got around to recalling. But GM ignored many complaints while forcing settlements that required public silence from at least two families suing over such fatalities.

The “new” post-bankruptcy GM isn't legally responsible for claims stemming from pre-July 2009 incidents — an obstacle to civil litigation that a proposed class-action lawsuit in California seeks to strike down. The Justice Department is examining whether the ignition defect was properly disclosed in GM's bankruptcy filings. But that shouldn't be the only criminal investigation of GM's handling of its ignition defect.

Full accountability and justice for victims requires prosecution, based on all available evidence, of all who are culpable — whether the facts show criminal fraud, criminal negligence or, yes, even disregard that rises to involuntary manslaughter.

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