As you may know from recent news reports, General Motors is currently involved in extensive litigation over 13 deaths that plaintiffs argue were caused by a faulty ignition switch on their GM manufactured vehicles. The allegedly defective switches were manufactured for GM by Delphi Automotive and have been used in an estimated 2.6 million cars which are now subject to recall to replace the defective switches. Of the defective vehicles, about 30,000 are currently being repaired, with the others scheduled for repairs down the line, as a judge recently declined to issue a “park it now” warning which would have taken all 2.6 million cars off the road immediately.
The plaintiffs allege that the defective switch could easily be bumped by a driver’s knee and when moving one’s right foot form the gas pedal to the break and that bumping the ignition switch would case the cars to suddenly turn off, depriving their drivers of the ability to control the vehicles, resulting in several serious crashes, including the 13 deaths.
What may be particularly disturbing about the current faulty ignition switch issue is that GM knew about it for a decade and didn’t do anything about it until the recall they issued in February 2014 after multiple federal investigations, including a criminal probe, were launched to look into the issue. In fact a recently released memorandum from the Committee on Energy and Commerce states:
November 2004: GM opened an engineering inquiry, Problem Resolution Tracking System N172404 (“2004 PRTS”), to examine the complaint “vehicle can be keyed off with knee while driving” in a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.
In March 2005 GM decided to close the PRTS without taking action to address the issue identified in November 2004 stating
The main reasons cited for the decision were “lead-time for all solutions is too long,” “tooling cost and piece price are too high,” and “[n]one of the solutions seems to fully countermeasure the possibility of the key being turned (ignition turned off) during driving.”
One of the solutions GM proposed to the dealers in its network after the issue was identified was to remove “heavy items form key rings.” Yes, when faced with a potentially fatal flaw in the design of their vehicle, their proposed remedy was to ask new car purchasers to lighten the load on their key rings, which is also what they have asked owners affected by the recall to do until the parts are available to replace the ignition switch.
The report continues for an additional 6 pages, laying out the issues identified by GM’s own engineers as well as the horrific accidents that were caused by the faulty ignition switch. Reading the report, it is clear as day that GM knew this was an issue and failed to take any action to prevent the deaths that occurred as a result.
At the moment, there are several different lawsuits pending against GM on this particular issue. The pending lawsuits will most likely be consolidated into one action in the near future, to allow for more efficient handling of the litigation process.
GM is attempting to avoid financial responsibility for the 13 deaths and any other pending civil claims by arguing that the cases should be considered part of their 2009 bankruptcy because at least 9 of the deaths occurred before the 2009 bankruptcy was approved and the cars were manufactured by “old GM” which no longer exists. When the bankruptcy was approved, GM was absolved of financial responsibility for a number of death and injury lawsuits involving their product lines including the 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ion and 2005 – 2010 Chevy Cobalt.
Please continue to check back with us as this case unfolds. If you or a loved one were injured as a result of this defect, read this.