General Motors executives were on the hot seat in the U.S. Senate today as families, including the Harrington family from Fort Lauderdale, listened to testimony on the ignition switches linked to numerous deaths and crashes.
The Harrington family held a picture of their daughter Brandy during the hearing. She died in a crash four years ago behind the wheel of a GM car her parents bought for her. They were there to give a face to the massive recall GM has undertaken.
“The hardest thing is to live wondering every day that if the airbag had gone off, would Brandy still be here?” said Brandy’s mother Virginia.
GM has admitted to knowing about the faulty ignition switch for more than a decade before it launched this year’s recall of millions of vehicles. The part, which cost less than a dollar, has been positively linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.
GM’s top lawyer, Mike Millikin testified that he was unaware of the situation until recently.
“I just found out about the ignition switch recall situation, involving non-deployment of airbags, the first week of February this year,” Millikin told the Senate panel.
His answer did not sit well with Senate Commerce Subcommittee Chairperson Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
“I cannot for the life of me; this is either gross negligence or gross incompetence on the part of a lawyer,” said Senator McCaskill. “The notion that he can say, ‘I didn’t know.’”
General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Marra, who has been on the job for less than a year, has appeared before multiple Congressional committees looking at the recall failure. She defended Millikin to the Senate committee Thursday.
“I have made the promise to fix what happened in the company to make sure that we are dedicated to safety. That we are dedicated to excellence. We are well on our way. We have made significant change,” Barra said. “To do that, I need the right team and Mike Millikin is a man of high integrity.”
While the families impacted by the defectives switches were at the Capitol, they were not allowed to sit in during the hearing. Instead, the families watched the hearing in a separate room. For the Harrington’s and other families, it’s all about accountability.
“It’s just something you do not want your family to have to go through and I think someone needs to take responsibility,” Virginia said. “I don’t think the few people they have fired or gotten rid of, that’s not the answer. There’s many more people that knew what was going on.”
General Motors has set up a compensation fund for victims, offering to pay as much as several million dollars each to the families of people killed and severely injured in accidents caused by defective ignition switches. The expert who runs the compensation program clarified some of the terms Thursday.
Kenneth Feinberg testified that people who may have valid claims for a money settlement include passengers in the car where the airbags did not deploy. People in other vehicles that were hit by a car with a faulty ignition switch may also be eligible to file a claim. Families can begin submitting applications at the beginning of August.