Newspaper article International New York Times

Some See Report as Ammunition for Change at Automaker

Newspaper article International New York Times

Some See Report as Ammunition for Change at Automaker

Article excerpt

Mary T. Barra, the head of General Motors, called an internal investigation released on Thursday an occasion for the automaker to clean house.

The chief for regulatory affairs is gone. So are a senior lawyer and two midlevel engineers. Two safety executives were also let go. The list is long -- at least 20 in all -- of those dismissed or disciplined by General Motors for their role in the company's failure to correct a deadly safety defect in millions of its small cars.

In announcing on Thursday the results of an internal investigation into the company's handling of the defect, the G.M. chief executive, Mary T. Barra, said she had used the occasion to clean house, removing employees "who acted inappropriately" or engaged in "misconduct or incompetence."

Though she did not release the names of those let go or punished, a person briefed on the moves confirmed to The New York Times the identities of many, including Michael Robinson, a vice president for global regulatory affairs, and William Kemp, a top lawyer for product-related litigation.

"This is a test of our character and values," Ms. Barra told a gathering of G.M. employees in Warren, Mich. "In the end, I'm not afraid of the truth, and I know you aren't either."

But if Ms. Barra was hoping the investigation by Anton R. Valukas, a former United States attorney hired by G.M., would allow the automaker to hit the reset button on the worst safety crisis in its history, many outsiders saw the report as powerful ammunition in continuing their struggles with the company -- over compensation for crash victims, potential criminal behavior by employees and fixes to a regulatory system that allowed the defective ignition switch to go uncorrected for more than a decade.

"I won't be letting G.M. leadership, or federal regulators, escape accountability for these tragedies," Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who is chairwoman of a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said in a statement.

Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, whose death has been linked to the ignition failure, was among many bereaved relatives who were not appeased. "She was just saying the same scripted lines over and over," Ms. Christian said of Ms. Barra.

Some lawyers for those killed in crashes linked to the defective ignition switch -- G.M. has said there were at least 13 deaths -- as well as for the dozens of people injured in crashes said the 325- page report by Mr. Valukas could move the needle in claims against G.M. away from simple damages and toward punitive damages.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, said that persuading a jury to award punitive damages is always difficult, but the threat of pursuing such an award could lead to larger settlements for some victims and their families. G.M. has hired Kenneth R. Feinberg, a specialist in such matters, to develop a compensation plan for the company, though no timetable has been set for payouts.

"The last thing you want is a jury coming in with a punitive damage award, where the intent is to punish," Mr. Tobias said.

For weeks G. …

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