A judge's gavel.
A judge’s gavel. Photo via Pixabay.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has obtained a $13.9 million settlement in a civil lawsuit against General Motors that alleged the auto maker put drivers and the public at risk by concealing serious safety defects in its vehicles to avoid the cost of replacing defective parts or ordering a recall.

The settlement was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Oct. 24 and was signed Friday by Judge Kim Dunning.

The 2014 complaint alleged that GM endangered the public through deception regarding vehicle safety and reliability and gained advantage over its competitors by engaging in unfair business practices.

“At least 124 people died, and 275 were injured, as a result of these failures,” according to a statement released by the District Attorney’s Office.

GM issued a statement saying it “has reached a constructive settlement with Orange County, California, to finally resolve claims filed by the Orange County District Attorney regarding the company’s advertising of vehicles that were subject to certain recalls in 2014, including the ignition switch recall. Since 2014, GM has taken important steps to help ensure the safety of its vehicles, including a new organizational structure dedicated to global vehicle safety and a robust Speak Up for Safety program.”

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said it was important to protect consumers.

“Second to our homes, our cars must carry precious cargo and hold value for resale,” Rackauckas said. “We must protect our consumers from businesses that put profits over people by keeping cars on roads safe and avoiding preventable accidents. We must also encourage all businesses to be fair and live up to safety standards, and must not allow those engaging in unfair practices to punish those businesses that don’t cut corners by compromising safety.”

The OCDA’s office asserted in its lawsuit that GM failed to disclose and/or concealed known defects — including power steering, airbag, and brake- related problems — in millions of its vehicles. By knowingly hiding the existence of defects and marketing its vehicles as safe and reliable, GM enticed consumers under false pretenses to purchase or lease GM vehicles, according to the complaint.

“GM valued cost-cutting over safety, and intentionally falsely represented to the public that GM-manufactured vehicles were safe and reliable, despite its knowledge of the defects, to avoid the cost and negative attention of a recall,” the lawsuit alleged.

The District Attorney’s Office said the civil penalties will be used for the enforcement of California consumer protection laws and economic crimes, and the information technology to support those operations. A portion of the settlement will also be allocated to the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership.

—City News Service

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