Wrongful Death Lawsuit Accuses General Motors of Knowing about Faulty Ignition Switch for 10 Years

According to a lawsuit filed in March 2014 on the behalf of several Minnesota families of three teenagers severely injured or killed in a 2006 crash linked to a faulty ignition witch, General Motors knew about the switch’s defect for over a decade but never took action to solve the problem. Since February 2014, after receiving much pressure from lawmakers and federal agencies, General Motors has issued a recall of 2.6 million vehicles that contain the faulty ignition switch. The defective part has been linked to 12 deaths and 34 crashes nationwide. The recall includes the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, the Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and the Saturn Ion and Sky.

steering wheel.jpgThe faulty ignition switch causes vehicles to turn off while driving, resulting in the loss of power brakes and power steering, as well as disabling the air bags. The problem is triggered by jostling keys or a heavy key ring that causes the ignition switch to turn off. GM has strongly recommended that owners of the recalled vehicles remove all excess items from the key ring to prevent the problem from occurring before having the issue fixed. While all dealerships should have the correct parts to make repairs beginning in April 2014, GM has instructed dealers to provide consumers with loaner or rental cars until the repairs are made.

However, according to the wrongful death lawsuit recently filed in Minnesota state court, three teenage girls were involved in a major car accident in 2006 when a 2005 Chevy Cobalt’s ignition switch suddenly turned off. As a result, the 19-year-old driver, lost control of the vehicle and hit two trees. She suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash. Her two passengers, a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old girl, were killed in the accident. The lawsuit is asking GM to compensate the families $50,000 each for the tragic incident. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that GM knew of the switch problem since 2001.

Robert Hilliard, the attorney for the Minnesota families, stated, “GM hid this dangerous life-threatening defect from my clients and all other Cobalt drivers for over a decade just to avoid the cost of a recall. GM is guilty of betraying our trust.”

However, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also come under fire for not detecting the problem and issuing a recall. The agency has the authority to force manufacturers to recall defective vehicles. On three separate occasions, the NHTSA conducted special investigations related to the faulty switches.

GM chief executive Mary T. Barra apologized that the company did not issue a recall sooner and stated that the manufacturer is committed to getting the unsafe vehicles off the road. She stated, “We are taking no chances with safety. Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn’t practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years.”

Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook stated that GM is merely reacting to pressure from lawsuits and lawmakers. She said, “What is so interesting to me is what the pressure of the public spotlight and the possibility of criminal penalties have done to force this company to behave.”

Website Resource: GM expands ignition-switch recall, Washington Post, Michael A. Fletcher
GM Hit With Wrongful Death Lawsuit Over Ignition Defect, Reuters, Jessica Dye, March 24, 2014

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