General Motors, which recalled 2.6 million vehicles in 2014 over faulty ignition switches linked to injuries and death, faces continuing legal trouble over the defective ignition and switches and other defects.
The company was accused of covering up ignition switch defect that has been linked to more than 120 deaths and numerous injuries. For nearly a decade, GM denied that the switches were defective. These switches are used in many of its small cars. Federal regulators are allowing General Motors Co. to delay a planned recall of 2.5 million vehicles with Takata air bag inflators until September 2017.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted “a short deferral of GM’s obligation” to recall the vehicles with Takata air bags after the Detroit automaker filed a petition requesting additional time for the company to study the service life expectancy of the parts. NHTSA will require GM to make public monthly updates on the progress of the studies.
Accidents and Deaths Linked to Faulty Ignition Switch
GM’s faulty ignition switches could easily slip out of the “run” position if the key was jostled or the car went over rough road, causing the engine to engine to stall and cutting power to the brakes, steering and airbag systems. The unexpected loss of power caused numerous accidents, when the driver was not able to control or slow the car or bring it to a stop in a safe area. Airbags did not properly deploy, leaving front seat passengers unprotected in a frontal crash.
When an ignition key is turned, a small metal pin—the detent plunger—provides tension to keep the key in proper position. The length of the detent plunger in the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was 10.6 millimeters. The detent plungers in Cobalts released in 2007 and later are 12.2 millimeters long. That small difference in thickness made a difference in safety. But when GM first began receiving reports of crashes after a car suddenly lost power, the company did not react with great concern. In an early response, GM issued a service bulletin to dealers, blaming the ignition problem on heavy key rings. GM advised owners to remove other keys and objects from their key rings to make the key ring lighter.
The faulty ignition switch was used in 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-2010 Saturn Sky vehicles. The recall included 1.96 million vehicles in the United States, and 2.36 million worldwide. By the time the recall was issued, the original buyers no longer owned many of the cars. GM had difficulty locating the current owners. The size of the recall also made it difficult for dealers to get sufficient replacement parts and schedule all the necessary repairs.
GM Long Denied Faulty Ignition Switch Link to Accidents
GM engineers allegedly knew of the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. In 2004, a GM engineer demonstrated how a Cobalt could stall during driving when his knee jostled the key and knocked it out of position. He suggested design changes but his suggestions were rejected based on cost, though solution would reportedly have only cost 57 cents per part.
General Motors has paid substantial fines and settlements over the faulty ignition switches. In 2014, the company established a compensation fund for those injured in ignition-switch related crashes and for the families of those killed. Kenneth Feinberg administered the fund. He had previously administered compensation programs for September 11 victims, the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing. Feinberg had sole authority to determine eligible claims and the size of the payouts, the Wall Street Journal reported. Those who accepted compensation agreed not to sue GM but victims or families could bypass the fund and pursue court cases.
In September 2015, General Motors agreed to a $900 million criminal settlement, ending the Justice Department investigation into faulty ignition switches. The settlement resolved more than half of the death and personal injury lawsuits in the ongoing multidistrict litigation (MDL) and a shareholder class action in two civil settlements, according to Law360. The Justice Department agreed to defer prosecution of GM for three years. If GM adheres to settlement terms that include independent monitoring of its safety practices, the company’s record will be wiped clean, the New York Times reports. GM admitted that it failed to disclose the ignition switch defect to regulators in a timely manner and had also misled consumers about the safety of the affected vehicles.
In September 2016, General Motors settled two cases involving defective ignition switches. One of the cases was scheduled to go to trial on September 12. Both lawsuits involved injuries in accidents linked to the faulty ignition switches, USA Today reports. The plaintiffs in these cases chose not to participate in the compensation program.
GM has a one-million vehicle recall over a side-impact airbag defect that could cause the airbags not to deploy in an accident. Corrosion or loose crimps in the wiring harness connectors for the side-impact airbags could cause increased resistance. The airbag control system might sense that increased resistance as a problem and trigger the “Service Air Bag” warning light. According to GM’s initial announcement, ignoring warning light could result in non-deployment of the airbags. The defect can eventually cause the resistance to increase to the point where the airbags will not deploy in a crash.
GM issued the recall in March 2014, but company documents show the company had known about the airbag defect since 2008. GM issued six different service bulletins to dealers about the defect. Records indicate that GM bought back an unknown number of vehicles because of the faulty airbags. During a 2010 investigation, an engineer discovered that over 6,800 vehicles had been subject to at least two warranty claims that arose out of a “Service Air Bag” message. The service bulletins had not resolved the defect.
GM issued further service bulletins and an extension of warranty coverage, in 2011 and 2012, but the issued still was not resolved. GM then planned to a “customer-satisfaction campaign,” a less-expensive option that would not involve government regulators. But after informing the National Highway Safety Administration of its plans, GM changed its plan to a full recall.
Legal Help for Those Harmed by GM Safety Defects
If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident linked to a GM vehicle defect or has suffered an economic loss, the attorneys at Parker Waichman can offer a free, no obligation case evaluation. To reach the firm, fill out the online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).