General Motors has agreed to a $900 million settlement and agreed to admit to misleading the public about vehicle safety amid defective ignition switches, according to court documents.
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The criminal charges were wire fraud and scheming to conceal information, according to court documents. The company is charged with concealing a potentially deadly safety defect from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from the spring of 2012 through February 2014.
GM's CEO Mary Barra apologized again during a town hall meeting with GM employees today, acknowledging that "people died in our cars."
"I have said many times how sorry I am for what happened," Barra said in her prepared remarks. "On behalf of all of us, I have apologized to the families who lost love ones and to those who were injured. I do so again today. We let these customer down in this situation. We didn’t do our jobs."
According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, GM engineers knew before the defective switch went into production in 2002 that it was prone to easy movement out of its "run" position into "off" or "accessory," disabling the car's front airbags.
“For nearly two years, GM failed to disclose a deadly safety defect to the public and its regulator," Bharara said in a statement. "By doing so, GM put its customers and the driving public at serious risk. Justice requires the filing of criminal charges, detailed admissions, a significant financial penalty, and the appointment of a federal monitor. These measures are designed to make sure that this never happens again.”
The government's criminal investigation linked the defective switches to at least 124 deaths. The company set up a special fund last year to compensate victims who had one of several models of cars, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G4 and G5, and Saturn Ion and Sky vehicles.
Last year, Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle the U.S. Justice Department's criminal probe of acceleration problems in some of the Japanese manufacturer's cars beginning from 2009.
GM also separately announced today the first settlement to resolve a shareholder class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Michigan. GM said it reached an agreement potentially covering about 1,380 individual death and personal injury claimants, including more than half of the personal injury plaintiffs with lawsuits in multiple districts pending in New York federal court. The company said it will record a charge of $575 million in the third quarter related to the settlement.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, issued a statement saying the settlement "fails to require adequate and explicit admission of criminal culpability from GM and individual criminal actions."
"The 124 families who lost loved ones deserved an explicit acknowledgment of criminal wrongdoing and individual criminal accountability, as well as a larger monetary penalty," they said in the joint statement.