An outraged widow filed a new lawsuit claiming that General Motors covered up a known malfunction by claiming her late husband had intentionally causing a fiery crash that killed him and four of their children.
Adam Powledge inexplicably drove in a straight line Oct. 18, 2005, off Interstate 45 and into a steel utility pole, slicing his Chevy Malibu in half, killing himself and 12-year-old Jake, 10-year-old Blake, 7-year-old Rachel, and 6-year-old Isaac.
His widow, Dori, claimed in a 2007 lawsuit that her husband and four of their eight children had been killed as a result of an electrical malfunction, but the automaker argued the crash was intentional.
“A cornerstone of GM’s legal defense to the 2007 lawsuit was a particularly nefarious accusation — that Adam Powledge was not the victim of a GM defect, but was a murderer and intended to kill himself and his children,” the new complaint charges.
The automaker also repeatedly argued in court that Doris Powledge’s claim was “implausible” because no recall had been issued on the 2004 Malibu.
Powledge, who is now known as Doris Phillips, claims that GM dragged out the litigation through its 2009 bankruptcy – which forced her and other litigants to “accept penny-on-the-dollar settlements” after the automaker’s assets were stripped.
The automaker agreed to turn over a 61-percent equity stake to the U.S. government in return for a $50 billion bailout as part of its 2009 bankruptcy agreement. The government announced Wednesday it had lost $11.2 billion on that deal
Under the terms of that agreement, GM would not be held liable for claims from accidents that happened prior to July 2009.
Phillips’ attorney, Josh Davis of Houston, told The Raw Story he suspects the automaker might have been motivated to file for bankruptcy to avoid responsibility for a major mechanical problem.
“It appears to have been a calculated move by General Motors to use a legitimate financial crisis to avoid what would be a costly recall and tort liability,” Davis said.
GM announced in February that it was recalling Chevrolet, Saturn, and Pontiac vehicles due to an ignition switch problem that causes cars to suddenly turn off, disabling the engine, power steering and brakes, seat belts, and airbags.
According to a class action suit filed against the automaker, GM knew about the defect in 2004 but waited a decade to issue a recall – despite mounting evidence that that defect was linked to dozens of fatal crashes.
GM issued another recall in late March for 1.3 million vehicles with defective power steering – including the 2004 Malibu in which five members of the Powledge family were killed.
That recall prompted Phillips’ suit, filed Tuesday, asking the court to set aside and vacate the final judgment in her previous suit.
She seeks up to $300 million in punitive damages for fraud, conspiracy, infliction of emotional distress, and racketeering.
The power steering issue in the Phillips suit was not the same as the ignition switch issue that triggered the first recall, Davis pointed out, but he said they were likely related problems.
“I am very confident that this is part of a trickle,” he said. “Everything in the drive-by wire system in the early aughts was failing on multiple fronts on multiple levels.”
Davis said this electrical system used in those vehicles was fairly new 10-15 years ago, but he believes there will be numerous other lawsuits filed in connection with failures related to its use.
The attorney also said federal and state laws require honesty from corporations or individuals filing for bankruptcy relief, and the automaker’s agreement can be amended if fraud can be proven.
“If you and I committed fraud, our bankruptcy would be tossed and we would be looking at criminal liability,” Davis said. “There are certainly laws in place to prevent exactly what they did.”
GM said it would not comment on the lawsuit until it got a request on company letterhead that was sent to the proper corporate division.
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