Paula Lawlor was sifting through piles of internal General Motors Co documents in a hotel room outside of Los Angeles when she hit pay dirt: Company records showing that GM knew for years that stronger roofs on its vehicles could save lives.
Such evidence helped persuade a jury to award the plaintiff $15.4 million. But something continued to trouble Lawlor. Only a small fraction of the evidence was aired publicly at trial. Worse, to her mind, was that while dozens of plaintiff lawyers suing GM over roof-crush deaths and injuries had seen much of the same evidence over the previous decade, most of it remained hidden under court-mandated secrecy the lawyers had accepted.
In those 10 years, more than 5,000 seatbelt-wearing passengers died in GM rollover accidents, many more were injured, and the company was still pumping out new vehicles with similar roofs.