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GM Crash Fatalities: The 'Cost of Doing Business'

Following massive recall, automaker slammed for choosing profit over people's lives

GM CEO Mary Barra testifying before a Senate panel on Wednesday. (Screenshot: CSPAN)

GM CEO Mary Barra testifying before a Senate panel on Wednesday. (Screenshot: CSPAN)

Automaker General Motors is facing accusations of doing a "cost-benefit analysis" on human life and opting for the savings, as the recent recall of cars with defective ignition switches has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

Victims of the crashes were just the "cost of doing business" for GM, charged Laura Christian, the mother of Amber Marie Rose, who died in 2005 when the airbag in her Chevy Cobalt failed to deploy. Christian was among other family members of victims and survivors of car accidents linked to defective ignition switches who traveled to Washington DC this week to confront the automaker.

Other car owners described how on multiple occasions their car would go from "45 [m.p.h.] to zero within seconds."

GM's new CEO Mary Barra reportedly met with the victims to hear their stories Monday evening, before appearing before at an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Tuesday and a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Testifying before the subcommittee, Barra fielded questions regarding why GM repeatedly approved ignition switches despite—by GM's own admission—an indication that there were problems with the device dating back to 2001.

As Al Jazeera reports:

GM's own timeline, provided to the government, indicates that it knew as early as 2001 that there were problems with the ignition switch in the Saturn Ion. That switch was later used in the Cobalt and other cars. GM eventually learned of accidents and fatalities linked to the switch, and conducted multiple reviews.

The recall, which began in February of this year, includes all model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G5 and Pontiac Solstice made from 2003-2011. More than 2.5 million cars are included in the recall.

In a recent Facebook post, documentary film director Michael Moore slammed the company for what he said was a "pre-meditated decision to take human lives for a lousy ten bucks."

"The executives at GM "did a 'cost-benefit analysis' and concluded that paying off the deceased's relatives was going to be cheaper than having to install a $10 part per car," Moore wrote. "They then covered up their findings and continued to let millions drive around with the defective part in their cars."

Directing his anger at the corporate economic system, "that places profit above everything else, including—and especially—human life," Moore continued:

GM has a legal and fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to make the biggest profits that it can. And if their top people crunch the numbers and can show that they will save more money by NOT fixing or replacing the part, then that is what they are going to goddam well do.

During the Tuesday hearing, Barra herself admitted that the decision to overlook the defective parts was due to the "cost culture" of the company.

"The GM recall represents once again how dishonest and greedy many, if not most, US corporations have become," writes Donna Smith, Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado. "Human life—and everything else—comes second to profits."

As an owner of a recalled 2004 Malibu Maxx, Smith adds that she has "little trust that all the showy Congressional hearings" and the "requisite groveling and apologizing" on the part of the CEOs will result in any meaningful changes in the "American corporate value structure."

Several lawsuits have been filed against the company and the U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation.

During the Tuesday hearing, lawmakers cited data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding 14 additional deaths from crashes in newer models of the recalled cars, insinuating that those fatalities may also be linked to the technical glitches.

"This information raises important new questions about what GM knew, when GM knew about the risks from this faulty ignition switch, and how the company has handled the recalls of affected vehicles," charged the members of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill).


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