A defect in 2.6 million GM cars sold in the U.S could cause the car’s engine and electrical system to shut off, and disable the air bags. For a decade GM failed to address this defect which has led to the deaths of over 300 people in crashes where the front air bags did not deploy. It has been reported that GM could have fixed the defective switch for as little as 57 cents per vehicle.
Fatal Accidents in GM Cars
In the recalled cars, the ignition switch can turn off the engine and shut off the car’s electrical system on its own if the ignition key is inadvertently jarred. It can occur when the car goes over a bump. GM has stated that if the driver has a heavy key ring attached to the ignition key, the weight of the ring can pull the key into the “off” position which shut down the engine. That disables the power-assisted steering and brakes and can cause drivers to lose control. It also disables the air bags. GM says at least 13 people have died in crashes linked to the problem, but various reports have the death toll closer to 60.
As Fatal Accidents Occurred, GM Failed to Recall the Faulty Cars
For years, GM did not issue a recall to fix the defect with its ignition switches even though crashes in which air bags in its cars did not deploy were being tracked.
During the pre-production development of the Saturn Ion, GM engineers learned that the ignition could wander from “Run” to the “Accessory” or “Off” position in 2001. A report identified an issue with the ignition switch and stated that an ignition switch design change had resolved the problem.
Two years later, another report “documented an instance in which the service technician observed a stall while driving.” The service technician noted that the weight of several keys on the key ring had worn out the ignition switch. It was replaced and the matter was closed.
In 2004 GM engineers encountered the problem again during test drives of the Chevy Cobalt before it went to market. According to the chronology provided to NHTSA, engineers pinpointed the problem and were “able to replicate this phenomenon during test drives.” GM explored a number of solutions, but after considering cost, effectiveness and the amount of time it would take to develop a fix, GM decided to do nothing.
As soon as consumers began buying the 2005 Cobalt, GM began to get complaints about sudden loss of power incidents. In May 2005, GM again assessed the problem and considered in re-designing the key head from a “slotted” to a “hole” configuration. GM again declined to act.
Instead, in October 2005, GM issued Technical Service Bulletin alerting service technicians to the inadvertent turning of the key cylinder resulting in the loss of the car’s electrical system. Customers who brought in their vehicle complaining about the issue got a re-designed key head which prevented the key ring from moving up and down in the slot, and the smaller design kept the keys from hanging as low as they did in the past. However, there was no general recall and GM continued to get complaints.
In 2006, GM approved a design change for the Cobalt’s ignition switch supplied by Delphi, but the new design wasn’t produced until the 2007 model year.
The following year, NHTSA crash investigators met with some GM staff to discuss their airbags, and informed GM of the July 2005 frontal and fatal crash of Amber Marie Rose. As noted above, the airbags in Ms. Rose’s 2005 Cobalt did not deploy. Data retrieved from the vehicle’s diagnostic system indicated that the car’s ignition was in the “accessory” position. GM began investigating and tracking similar crashes. By the end of 2007, GM knew of 10 frontal collisions in which the airbag did not deploy.
For the next six years, GM continued to get complaints and continued to investigate frontal crashes in which the airbags did not deploy. It wasn’t until 2011 and 2012 that GM’s examinations of switches from vehicles that had experienced crashes revealed significant design differences in ignition switches from the 2005 Cobalts and those from the 2010 model year, the last year of the Cobalt’s production. GM blamed the supplier for instituting those changes in the switch design. In late 2013, after numerous assessments, GM made the decision to recall the Cobalt and G5 vehicles, and have since fired 15 GM employees with well over 50 to 60 percent of those employees let go being executives or higher. GM has set aside $1.7 billion to pay for the repairs, appointed a new executive to supervise vehicle safety, and begun a wide-ranging shake-up of its engineering department.
Because of the General Motors Co. recall, GM has openly spoken about the apparently faulty ignition problem and claims that they are trying to do everything they can to see that the necessary repairs are completed quickly.
On March 24, 2014, Bailey Javins & Carter, LC, along with co-counsel from across the country, filed a lawsuit against GM on behalf of plaintiffs from West Virginia and other states in relation to the faulty ignition.
Maciel, et al., v. General Motors, LLC, No. 3:14-cv-01339, filed in the Northern District of California.
Legal Rights of Those Injured by Defective Cars
Automakers have a legal duty to correct any known safety defects in order to produce cars that are safe. Damages in personal injury lawsuits against auto manufacturers for selling defective vehicles with safety flaws include damages for:
- Past and future physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and physical impairment;
- Past and future medical, incidental and hospital expenses;
- Past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity; and
- Punitive damages in cases of egregious misconduct.
Surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit if the driver or occupant was killed.
How Bailey, Javins & Carter Can Help You
For more than 40 years, Bailey, Javins & Carter has had a solid reputation for handling catastrophic injury claims involving automotive defects. If you have suffered a serious injury or if you have a loved one who was fatally injured due to a defective GM vehicle, it may be linked to faulty ignition issues. Please contact Bailey Javins & Carter as quickly as possible.