There were a number of highlights from last week’s two congressional hearings examining why GM covered up its lethal ignition switch defect for over a decade. Nothing we say here will top SNL’s take down. However, I will note some of my favorite lines of questioning (from Autoblog):
In a hearing filled with barbed exchanges Wednesday, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee accused GM of engaging in a “culture of cover up,” for its role in hiding a deadly defect for more than a decade. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the company had purposely hindered disclosure of an ignition-switch defect that has killed at least 13 motorists.…
In one of the most contentious portions of the hearing, McCaskill charged that a senior General Motors engineer perjured himself during testimony last year in a lawsuit related to the ignition-switch flaw. The engineer, Ray DeGeorgio, claimed under oath that he had no knowledge of a change in ignition-switch parts when documents later revealed he signed a form ordering a parts change. …
Later, McCaskill said GM had worked to conceal the documents from that lawsuit and keep it hidden from others involved in litigation over deaths and injuries related to the defect. “This is what corporations in America do,” she said. “They hide documents.”
Then there was the exchange with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who has introduced legislation, along with Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-CT) to “widen the scope of data available to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and make it more transparent to the public.” Writes Autoblog:
Five times, Markey asked Barra if she would support various portions of his legislation. Barry would not commit her support, only saying that GM’s legal team would review the legislation and give its input.
“I am very troubled that you are not willing to commit to ending this culture of secrecy at General Motors,” Markey said.
“I didn't say that,” Barra replied.
“Yes, you have,” Markey said. “And I know this, because I have tried year after year – for more than 10 years – to have legislation passed that would require the disclosure of all this information, and it was the automobile industry that killed my legislation year after year. This is the moment now, for you to say more than, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Well as SNL notes, that didn’t happen. GM continues to create agony for its victims and their families who say, “what is now most upsetting … is the uncertainty and secrecy surrounding the crashes — the fact that G.M. won’t tell them what they most want to know.”
Secrecy is the food on which corporate wrongdoers feed, the gasoline that keeps them moving, the radioactive uranium that heats the steam generators that produces the electricity that.…
Sorry, got carried away with metaphors. Bottom line: bad corporations demand secrecy and if the public is harmed in the meantime? Oh well.
GM is certainly not alone in that. For example, the Washington Post just reported on a new study by Natural Resources Defense Council finding, “Food manufacturers are routinely exploiting a ‘legal loophole’ that allows them to use new chemicals in their products, based on their own safety studies, without ever notifying the Food and Drug Administration.”
And a jury in Lafayette, Louisiana just ordered Takeda Pharmaceutical and Eli Lilly & Co. “to pay a combined $9 billion in punitive damages” for “hid[ing] the cancer risks of their Actos diabetes medicine in the first U.S. trial of its kind.” Here's more on that case:
Takeda executives’ failure for at least seven years to provide specific warnings that research showed the drug was linked to bladder cancer wasn’t an accident or oversight, Mark Lanier, a lawyer for former Actos user Terrence Allen, told jurors ….
Managers “made conscious decisions that amounted to reckless disregard” for the millions of consumers who took Actos, Lanier said. The company “was more concerned about making money” than about alerting regulators and patients that side-effect reports showed some users developed cancerous tumors in their bladders, he said.
See what happens is, discovery and public trials force information out - information that corporations do not want out. Check out this video about the Georgia GM case that eventually led to the recall. The company settled the case without turning over key documents as it was required to do, and attorney Lance Cooper believes the company eventually settled specifically to avoid the disclosure of damaging information.
So what can we do? Here’s one idea. Support Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY)’s bill to prevent secret settlements if secrecy puts the public at risk. If there ever were a time to enact this legislation, it’s clearly now.