Jan. 13, 1998

Supreme Court Ruling on GM a Landmark Win for Consumers

Gag Lifted on Important Whistleblower in Truck Safety Cases

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The unanimous Supreme Court decision allowing former General Motors engineer Ronald Elwell to testify in lawsuits against GM is a landmark victory for consumers, said auto safety advocates today.

"Big corporations who think they are above the law must be tamed," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "Today the justices have told GM it can no longer gag its whistleblowers or smother their revelations, no matter how damaging they are for the company."

Ron Elwell is a recognized expert in fuel systems and door latches whose testimony about GM's knowledge and callous disregard of hazards in its trucks led to major verdicts against GM and expensive settlements (including $150 million in Hardy v GM in Alabama in 1996).

"Elwell knows about too many skeletons in GM s closets, and that s why they tried to silence him," said Center for Auto Safety Director Clarence Ditlow. "Elwell is an expert on GM s lethal exploding side saddle gas tanks. He knows so much it s damaging and embarrassing to the company s reputation," he said.

Over 800 people have been burned to death in fire crashes involving side saddle gas tanks in GM 1973-1987 pickups, the largest number ever killed by any vehicle defect. GM has already paid out half a billion dollars in side saddle pickup lawsuits, with Elwell figuring as a key witness in the largest settlement.

GM attempted to silence Elwell s testimony by obtaining a court order in his own state of Michigan which GM then tried to enforce in other states. Today s decision puts an end to those attempts.

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