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Saturday, April 5, 2014

G.M. Hires Lawyer Specializing in Disaster Payouts

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Members of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee questioned Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, during a hearing on the company’s safety problems.

WASHINGTON — As families of crash victims lined the back of the House hearing room, displaying photos of their lost loved ones, Mary T. Barra, the General Motors chief executive, told lawmakers that the company was considering paying damages to victims of accidents in the millions of cars recalled for defective ignition switches.

To help decide, General Motors hired Kenneth Feinberg, a celebrated lawyer who handled payouts in the Sept. 11, 2001, victims fund and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, she told a House committee investigating the company’s failure to fix a faulty part that it knew about for more than a decade.

It was the first time G.M. had acknowledged that it may pay damages in accident cases that occurred before the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009, even though — to the increasing outrage of victims’ families — the company is legally protected by agreements made in bankruptcy court.

“G.M. has civic and legal responsibilities, and we are thinking through exactly what those responsibilities are,” Ms. Barra said, though she stopped short of committing to such a fund, and, in one tense exchange, refused to say that the automaker was responsible for the crashes.

The compensation issue was one of many dramatic moments in the two hours of...

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