With Criminal Case Dismissed, General Motors’ Ignition Switch Fiasco Nears An End

Four years after launching a massive, incredibly delayed recall aimed at preventing further deaths from its faulty ignition switches, General Motors freed itself from a criminal case launched in the scandal’s wake.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in New York wrote U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, compelling him to dismiss the case. Nathan approved the request, lifting GM free of the caudron. The rationale for dismissing the two criminal charges — concealing evidence from federal officials and wire fraud — comes down to good behavior on GM’s part, something that certainly doesn’t describe its past actions.

Some 124 deaths and 275 injuries over a decade’s time resulted from GM’s 2002 decision to go cheap on its ignition switch design, causing the device to switch out of the run position while vehicles were underway. This led to a slew of crashes after vehicles lost engine power, as well as power braking and steering. Compounding the deadly situation, the faulty switches led to airbag and seat belt pretensioner non-deployment.

GM knew about this danger as early as 2004, prosecutors claim.

The decision to put the faulty switch into production saved GM less than one dollar per vehicle. As accident reports rolled in, GM dragged its feet in issuing a recall. The cost of fixing the issue would be immense. Finally, in February 2014, the automaker issued the first of several massive recalls as the feds stepped in to investigate, eventually laying charges.

With the recall underway, the following year GM forged a deferred prosecution agreement with the New York Attorney General, paying a $900 million fine and agreeing to three years of oversight by an independent monitor. The automaker sufficiently held up its end of the bargain, prosecutors decided. CEO Mary Barra fired over a dozen people involved in the scandal, then spent years attempting to show that the automaker had learned from its actions and forged a new corporate culture.

Given the grievous nature of its transgressions, the company can’t expect to scrub this black mark from its image overnight. The infamous Ford Pinto memo haunted GM’s Detroit rival for years. As well, there’s still civil lawsuits pending, though GM settled hundreds of them in 2017 at a cost of $575 million. The same year, GM settled with 49 states.

In total, the fines and lawsuits resulting from the scandal cost GM more than $2.6 billion, with the recall costing billions more. A hell of a price to save some money, though it’s the human toll that’s important here.

[Source: Reuters]

a version of this article first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com