On the eve of a Senate appearance in which General Motors will be further scrutinized by lawmakers, the New York Times reveals that documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show GM may have been less than forthcoming when asked about the deadly ignition defect. So-called "death inquiries" into fatal accidents show that GM avoided answering explicit questions about the causes, either by saying it had "not assessed the cause," citing attorney-client privilege as a reason for keeping quiet, or less subtly, "GM opts not to respond."
The Times requested the documents—which are Congress-mandated and require automakers to detail each fatal car crash and the circumstances leading up to it—from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the deaths linked to the faulty ignition switch and received paperwork for four. In the death of Gene Erickson in Texas, a GM engineer initially said the crash was caused by power loss, but the company then backtracked and said there may not have been "sufficient reliable information to accurately assess the cause.” (In the meantime, Erickson’s fiancée originally pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the crash because she had a small amount of Xanax in her system.) GM CEO Mary Barra will appear before the Senate tomorrow, as will General Counsel Michael Millikin, who has claimed he was "kept in the dark" about settlements and is pointing fingers at former staffers who “failed to follow proper procedures," notes the Wall Street Journal. (Read more General Motors stories.)