Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog

GM Ignition Recall Update: Over 300 Deaths May Be Linked To Defect

Image: car side mirror

Following the recall in February of Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles due to faulty ignition switches, the national media has focused on the delay by GM in addressing this significant safety issue for over a decade despite numerous complaints. BusinessWeek reports that GM “is now at the beginning of a potentially years-long road dotted with inquiries, lawsuits, government fines and public skepticism.”

GM initially reported 12 deaths may be linked to the faulty switch. The defect involves a faulty ignition switch that can move from “run” to “off” while the vehicle is in motion. In addition, the position of the ignition module allows a driver to easily bump a dangling key ring, jostling it out of place. This causes a sudden loss of power where the driver loses function of power steering and the airbags are disabled.

In explosive news, the New York Times reported on March 13, 2014, that a review of car accident reports shows that 303 people died after the air bags failed in the two vehicles subject to the recall – the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2003-2007 Saturn Ion.

The review was conducted by Friedman Research, a company that analyzes vehicle safety data. It examined accidents in which the air bags failed to deploy and the driver and any other front seat passenger died. Again, these were not deaths that occurred simply because the car crashed. These were deaths that occurred when the car crashed and the airbags did failed to deploy.

A criminal investigation was launched on March 12, 2014, by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the company’s actions are also being scrutinized by Congress, the FBI, and the Transportation Department. A Congressional committee is beginning its own investigation and hearings into the events over the last 10 years leading up to the recall.

March 28, 2014 Update: GM Expands Recall

On Friday March 28, 2014, General Motors expanded the GM ignition switch recall to cover 824,000 newer models of the cars previously recalled. GM said it now will replace the ignition switch in all model years of its Chevrolet Cobalt, HHR, Pontiac G5, Solstice and Saturn Ion and Sky vehicles — previously, the recall covered on only cars through the 2007 model year.

Background on the GM Ignition Recall

The current recall covers seven GM models made from 2003 to 2007. These vehicles are the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 from the 2005-2007 model years, as well as the 2006-2007 MY Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac Solstice, 2003-2007 MY Saturn Ion, and 2007 to 2010 MY Saturn Sky vehicles. In addition, GM recalled the 2005-2006 Pursuit, sold in Canada. In total GM is recalling more than 1.36 million U.S. vehicles.

According to General Motors’ most recent chronology, engineers learned that the ignition could wander from “Run” to the “Accessory” or “Off” position in 2001, during pre-production development of the Saturn Ion. A report identified an issue with the ignition switch and stated that an ignition switch design change had resolved the problem. In 2003, a second 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.

GM engineers encountered the problem again in 2004 during test drives of the Chevy Cobalt before it went to market. Engineers allegedly pinpointed the problem and considered 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.

The New York Times analyzed records of customer complaints and found that since February 2003, there were more than 260 complaints, nearly 2 a month, regarding moving cars that stopped or stalled unexpectedly.

GM Recall Lawsuit Update

The New York Times reports that lawyers for injured GM drivers and surviving family members of drivers that died state that GM may have fraudulently negotiated a restructuring agreement in bankruptcy court while it was aware of the dangerous ignition defect.


Contact GM Recall Attorney

Lieff Cabraser has successfully represented persons across the United States injured in car accidents due to vehicle safety defects, including the sudden unintended acceleration flaw in several Toyota vehicles. Contact us about the GM defect lawsuits.