Judge: GM May Have Destroyed Documents in Fuel Tank Cases
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ A federal judge says General Motors may have shredded documents relating to the danger of its pickup truck fuel tanks, but a lawyer for two brothers suing the automaker said Thursday he thinks documents still exist that could prove GM knew the dangers.
In an opinion released this week, U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson said it was likely GM lawyers destroyed documents relating to fuel tanks in 1973-1987 pickups.
Anderson, who reviewed thousand of documents, found ″a substantial likelihood that perhaps perjury and the systematic destruction of documents involving gross misconduct by (GM lawyers) occurred″ in the early 1980s.
He chastised GM for failing to respond quickly to his requests for information that the automaker said were privileged by attorney-client privilege. He also cited previous testimony from a GM engineer, Theodore Kashmerick, who said company lawyers took documents from the engineer’s files and ordered them shredded.
The judge commented in a 59-page opinion in which he withdrew from the lawsuit by brothers Mark and Steven Cameron, who were severely burned in the May 1990 crash of a Chevrolet pickup.
GM spokesman Ed Lechtzin said the automaker strongly disagreed with Anderson’s remarks.
″A judge who has recognized his duty to withdraw from a case should not seek to prejudice its outcome. GM will defend itself in court and we are confident of the outcome,″ Lechtzin said.
The automaker previously has denied allegations of document destruction.
Anderson did not say specifically what led him to conclude that GM lawyers might be guilty of misconduct. The judge said he withdrew because he appeared at a recent legal seminar with two of the Camerons’ attorneys, and that could be viewed as compromising his impartiality.
One of the Cameron’s lawyers, Kendall Few, said he would ask a Texas court on Friday to unseal testimony in a 1985 case that also dealt with post-crash fires in GM vehicles.
Few said depositions given by a GM engineer and by Robert Stempel, then- chief executive of the auto giant, would shed light on what GM knew about the risks of fires from fuel tank ruptures.
″I believe, based on the evidence that I have seen and the statements in Judge Anderson’s (courtroom) that these depositions are of critical importance in our search for the truth in this matter,″ Few said.
Anderson’s order isn’t the first time GM has been accused of destroying documents in the fuel tank cases.
In 1993, the consumer group Public Citizen asked the Justice Department to investigate claims by Kashmerick that GM’s legal staff shredded documents in the early 1980s. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of Public Citizen’s Center for Auto Safety, said Thursday the department asked for more information but did not make clear if it would investigate.
The automaker lost a $105 million judgment in an Atlanta court in 1993 to the parents of Shannon Moseley, who contended their son died in a 1989 accident because the truck’s design was defective.
GM attorneys on Thursday asked a Georgia appeals court to reverse that ruling.