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O.C. district attorney's office files consumer suit against GM

O.C. DA files suit against GM that says firm lured buyers under false pretenses, valued cost cuts over safety

The Orange County District Attorney’s office has filed a lawsuit against General Motors, alleging the company engaged in unfair competition and false advertising in violation of California law when it failed to disclose defects.

The lawsuit filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court seeks civil penalties between $2,500 and $5,000 for each violation, attorneys fees and the costs of the suit and asks that GM be “permanently enjoined from committing any acts of unfair competition.”

It accuses GM of failing to disclose and working to conceal at least 35 vehicle defects, including faulty ignition switches and defective power steering and wiring harnesses, among others. It claims jurisdiction in Orange County because GM conducted business and affected consumers in the county and other parts of California.

"We have a lot of GM cars here in Orange County, a lot of people have these cars that are defective and it doesn’t seem to be anybody else is really having much of an effect on it," said Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. "I’m sworn to protect the public in this county and so that’s what I think I should do."

News of the suit comes the same day as an announcement detailing GM's plan to pay between $20,000 and more than $5 million to those hurt or killed in crashes involving the recalled vehicles.

GM spokesman James Cain said various parties have filed lawsuits against the company.

"We’ll respond to them all appropriately,” he said. “But our focus now is launching the compensation program for victims of ignition switch accidents and fixing vehicles that remain on the road,” he said.

The DA's suit accuses the company of knowing about defects in millions of cars since 2009.

“But, to protect its profits and to avoid remediation costs and a public relations nightmare, GM concealed the defects and their sometimes tragic consequences,” the suit says.

Rob Carey, a partner at law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which is working with the district attorney on the suit, said that while class-action suits are typically focused on consumers, the DA's suit will be focused on "addressing the conduct that has occurred and making sure that conduct is penalized and deterred ... so it doesn’t happen again." 

Last year, the DA's office announced a $16-million settlement with Toyota Motor Corp. after it filed a consumer protection suit related to that company's recall of vehicles at risk for unintended acceleration.

For more Orange County news, follow @palomaesquivel.

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