Documents Prove the GM Did Not Speak Up Over Fatal Crashes

Federal regulators have recently expressed interest in the car crash that killed Gene Erickson, asking why the man’s Saturn Ion veered off the road into a tree along a rural road in Texas. The air bags did not deploy, and when questioned about the vehicle, General Motors did not have an answer.

An internal evaluation conducted by a GM engineer concluded that the Ion most likely lost power, which subsequently disabled the vehicle’s airbags. However, GM’s response to this speculation, as well as its replies to concerns regarding other car accidents, casts doubt on whether the auto maker was forthcoming with regulators over the faulty ignition switch. GM has linked the defect to at least 13 fatalities in the last 10 years.

Details are surfacing for the first time in a criminal investigation launched by the U.S. Justice Department. According to reports, GM is facing concerns that it knowingly withheld information about the defect in its interaction with safety regulators.

The New York Times asserts that GM repeatedly avoided the simple question of what caused the car accidents. In at least three fatal crashes, including that of Mr. Erickson, the automaker claimed that it had not yet determined the cause of the incident. In another case, GM cited attorney-client privilege that prevented it from answering questions. Still, in other instances, GM simply stated that it “opts not to respond.”

These responses are found in “death inquiries,” documents that are obtainable to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. In the documents, regulators request that car manufacturers explain the causes of accidents to help determine whether specific vehicles were built with faulty or defective parts.

On July 17, 2014, the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, and other GM executives faced Congress to testify regarding the alleged cover-up of the automaker’s ignition-switch defect. The New York Times issued a report on July 16, 2014 on internal documents related to the fatal car accidents that were believed to have been caused by faulty ignition switches.

In 2004, Candice Anderson was driving the Saturn Ion in which Mr. Erickson was a front-seat passenger. The car suddenly swerved off the road, sparing Ms. Anderson but killing Mr. Erickson. It was not until recently that Ms. Anderson learned that she was not to blame. She had reportedly had a trace of Xanax in her system, which is believed to have been the cause for her guilty plea of criminally negligent homicide following the accident.

Despite GM’s engineer concluding that the engine shutting off was most likely the cause for the accident, the automaker reported that there might not have been enough information to accurately determine the reason for the crash. At the time, the company was facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Erickson’s surviving family, and GM claimed that it could not make disclosures due to attorney-client privilege.

The documents indicate that GM officials knew that the fatalities related to failed airbag deployment were due to a loss of power within the vehicle, but the manufacturer allegedly kept quiet. A fatal December 2009 crash in Tennessee took the life of another individual, and again, GM stated that any privileged material pertaining to the reason for the accident would not be publicly shared.