Washington — In an escalating fight with General Motors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined other Democratic senators Friday in asking the Justice Department to investigate the automobile maker for allegedly delaying a recall of millions of cars that had faulty ignition switches, a defect that has been linked to 13 deaths.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Blumenthal and four other senators said the U.S. Bankruptcy Court unwittingly shielded GM from liability from its defective ignitions, which can cause engines to shut off, disable air bags and put occupants at risk of serious injury or death.
“As a consequence of this fraudulent and reprehensible concealment, the United States Bankruptcy Court unknowingly authorized a purchase of GM’s assets by the ‘new GM,’ which seemingly shielded this new GM from legal responsibility for these product defects or other illegality occurring prior to 2009. This shield from legal responsibility was granted – with the federal government’s support – despite vehement opposition from consumer advocates, as well as from state attorneys general who warned that this blanket shield from all liability would prove unfair and unwise,” the senators’ letter said.
Blumenthal and his Senate colleagues said those injured by the defect may be blocked from legal remedies. Victims have filed lawsuits in state courts, the senators said, but GM has steered these lawsuits to the U.S. bankruptcy court “knowing that the GM reorganization there cannot be reopened under technical procedural rules and recourse will likely be blocked.”
The senators asked Holder to require GM to establish a fund to fully compensate consumers who suffered injury, death, or damage “as a result of these lethally defective vehicles.”
“This civil remedy could be done as an interim step, even before completing your criminal investigation and prosecution,” they said.
Blumenthal and his colleagues asked Holder to intervene in civil lawsuits against GM and also suggested that the Department of Justice or “an appropriate federal consumer protection agency” make sure that consumers are aware of the dangers of driving a vehicle with a defective ignition switch.
GM has recalled about seven million vehicles with the faulty switch. The recall covers the following models:
- 2003-2007 Saturn Ion
- 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt
- 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice
- 2007-2010 Pontiac G5
- 2007-2010 Saturn Sky
- 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR
On Thursday, GM suspended two engineers and added another repair to its recall of cars with a faulty ignition switch.