When Barra came to the Rimers and said she was sorry for the family’s loss, Jayne read a few paragraphs she’d written.
“I wanted her to feel what a mother feels,” she said.
She told the CEO about all the pain from 2006 returning, how her daughter would never be a bride, never be a hockey player.
“There is a hole in my heart and life forever,” she said. “I’m not sure she really heard those words. I was hoping for a more personal response.”
The exchange was “very moving,” according to Hilliard, the Texas lawyer who helped Koua Fong Lee of St. Paul get out of prison after a court found Toyota liable for an unexpected acceleration problem that killed three people in 2006.
“I sat across from the CEO, and she was attentive and empathetic and I saw her wipe her eyes a few times,” Hilliard said from Corpus Christi.
He said he is representing 30 families who lost loved ones in GM defective ignition cases as well as dozens seriously injured.
“We’re going after GM for what they did,” he said. “They have blood on their hands and hid what they knew for 10 years when they could have fixed this problem before this accident and saved their lives.”
More than a dozen people have died in 31 crashes when GM air bags failed to work because of the ignition problem. GM spokesman Greg Martin said in an e-mail the company is “committed to doing business differently.”
“We are conducting an unsparing, comprehensive review of the circumstances leading to the ignition switch recall,” he said. “We recognize the current scrutiny placed on GM and we expect to be measured by our response to this extraordinary situation.”
GM attorneys might try to argue that the company, which emerged from bankruptcy after a government bailout a few years ago, isn’t legally responsible for the mistakes of the old GM.
“Ms. Barra has worked there for more than 30 years and was part of the purchasing executive group,” Jayne Rimer said. “So she knew all about this faulty part.”
The family and its lawyer are also braced for the lack of seat belts to be brought up as the case proceeds.
“Yes, that would have helped them survive, but it’s kind of a moot point,” Ken Rimer said. “If the car hadn’t shut down and gone off the road, they wouldn’t have needed seat belts.”
Added Hilliard, “If GM attempt to do any finger-pointing and blames these young girls who didn’t have their seat belts on, it will only inflame the jury.”
A tough club to join
The Rimers thumbed through a photo album of Natasha’s life in their rolling hillside home. There were photos from the Peace Lutheran Church youth group and the hockey rink. Images of the homemade bracelets she’d pile on her wrist and the poems she’d written.
“She was so tiny, I wanted her to be a figure skater, but she said, ‘Mom, I want to be a hockey player,’ so I gulped and said, ‘OK if that makes you happy, you can play hockey.”