Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect Anton Valukas’ evolving characterization of Delphi’s cooperation with the internal investigation he conducted.
DETROIT -- Delphi Automotive agreed to give thousands of documents to lawyers suing General Motors over faulty ignition switches and to let the lawyers speak with its employees in exchange for being dropped as a defendant.
Two of the lawyers, Jere Beasley and Lance Cooper, said Delphi officials recently met with them and signed the deal in order to avoid a potentially prolonged discovery process in court. Delphi manufactured the ignition switches at a factory in Mexico, but much of its role in the matter remains unclear beyond emails that GM turned over to congressional investigators.
“We will have total and complete access to their employees who were involved,” Beasley, of Montgomery, Ala., told Automotive News. “They showed us enough documents that day that were extremely helpful to us and extremely damaging to General Motors and their credibility.”
The lawyers declined to disclose details of the agreement with Delphi or to say whether it included a monetary settlement, citing a confidentiality clause. They said they expect other lawyers suing GM to remove Delphi from their cases as well in exchange for the information the supplier is providing.
“It does appear that [Delphi employees] were acting at the direction of GM and made GM aware of the performance issues,” said Cooper, of Marietta, Ga. “When it comes down to it, it was GM’s switch.”
Engineers, lawyers and execs
Among the documents that Delphi has provided were emails -- not mentioned in GM’s internal report but made available to plaintiffs’ lawyers in early October -- showing that it placed an urgent order with Delphi in December 2013 to provide half a million replacement switches. Those emails, which began nearly two months before GM announced a recall, became public this week. GM, in a statement Monday, said the emails “are further confirmation that our system needed reform, and we have done so.”
A GM spokesman declined to comment today. A Delphi spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Anton Valukas, the former federal prosecutor who conducted GM’s internal investigation of the matter, told a U.S. House committee in June that Delphi refused to cooperate with his requests for information, but at a subsequent hearing in July he said he had received enough information from the supplier to make his report complete.
Cooper and Beasley said their firms hope to begin deposing GM employees at the end of December or, more likely, in early 2015, as part of a case brought by the parents of Brooke Melton, a Georgia nurse who died in 2010 when her Chevrolet Cobalt lost power and was broadsided in a rain-slicked intersection.
They plan to seek depositions from engineers, lawyers and potentially some executives. Some of the engineers and lawyers are among 15 employees that GM dismissed in June for what CEO Mary Barra described as “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” in handling the ignition-switch matter.
Cooper deposed several GM engineers in early 2013 for the same case, which was settled that fall and then refiled this year, alleging that GM committed fraud by withholding information. A judge this week gave GM 45 days to turn over some 28,000 documents related to that settlement and employees’ knowledge of the ignition-switch issue, Cooper said.
Both lawyers said they still have a number of claims pending with the compensation fund that GM established for victims of the ignition-switch defect. The fund, which is being administered by lawyer Ken Feinberg, had received 202 claims for deaths and 1,649 claims for injuries as of last Friday. Of those, 32 death claims and 35 injury claims have been approved so far.
Cooper said more than 10 claims he submitted have been approved so far, though he is still awaiting payment offers on some of those.
“We’re encouraged by Mr. Feinberg’s progress,” Cooper said, “though we’ve disagreed with them on a couple of decisions and amounts, including one denial.”
Both lawyers said none of their clients who have been offered compensation have chosen to reject it in order to pursue a lawsuit instead. They said there are still submitting additional claims.
They declined to divulge any of the dollar amounts Feinberg has offered, though Beasley said there have been “some rather huge awards so far.” For death claims, the minimum payout is $1 million, plus additional amounts for spouses, children and lost wages.
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