Issue: Faulty ignition switch, loss of power
Lieff Cabraser represents over 100 persons injured nationwide, and families of loved one who died, in accidents involving GM vehicles sold with a defective ignition switch. Without warning, the defect can cause the car’s engine and electrical system to shut off, disabling the air bags. On August 15, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman appointed Elizabeth J. Cabraser as Co-Lead Plaintiffs’ Counsel in the GM ignition switch litigation in federal court.
For over a decade, GM was aware of this defect and failed to inform government safety regulators and the public. When GM finally initiated the recall of its vehicles in 2014, it maintained that the deaths of 13 persons were the only known fatalities linked to its faulty ignitions. In fact, the defect has been implicated in the deaths and serious injuries to thousands of individuals 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.
Flawed GM Settlement Program for Ignition Switch Recall Lawsuits
In June 2014, Ken Feinberg, a compensation expert hired by General Motors, announced a plan that set a $1 million starting point for each death in accidents caused by a defective ignition switch in GM cars. There is no cap on the amount of money GM has agreed to spend on victims’ payments, and the company stated it would not seek to assert protection from liability involving incidents before its July 10, 2009, bankruptcy restructing agreement.
GM, however, has limited the settlement program to only 2.6 million of the over 12 million vehicles it recalled. In May 2014, the GM settlement administrator reported that the compensation fund has approved its 100th settlement offer for a death claim.
In response, Ms. Cabraser stated, “GM hid known defects and avoided recalls from its very start as a “New” company in 2009 until last Spring. The real toll is far higher still: some of our clients, and many others, are among the as-yet unacknowledged casualties of New GM’s concealment. GM says it’s a new company. We urge the New GM to acknowledge – and compensate – the many thousands of actual death and injury claims, to complete its multiple recalls, and to make its vehicles safe.”
The General Motors Recall List: GM Cars Recalled for Faulty Ignition Switches
From January through June 2014, GM has recalled the following cars as vehicles involved in GM recall:
- Buick Lacrosse – 2005-2009
- Buick Lucerne – 2006-2011
- Buick Regal LS & GS – 2004-2005
- Cadillac Deville – 2000-2005
- Cadillac CTS – 2003-2014
- Cadillac DTS – 2004-2011
- Cadillac SRX – 2004-2006
- Cadillac Escalade – 2011-2012
- Cadillac Escalade ESV – 2011-2012
- Cadillac Escalade EXT – 2011-2012
- Chevrolet Avalanche – 2011-2012
- Chevrolet Camaro – 2010-2014
- Chevrolet Cobalt – 2005-2010
- Chevrolet HHR – 2006-2011
- Chevrolet Impala – 2000-2014
- Chevrolet Malibu – 1997-2005
- Chevrolet Monte Carlo – 2000-2008
- Chevrolet Silverado HD – 2011-2012
- Chevrolet Silverado LD – 2011-2012
- Chevrolet Suburban – 2011-2012
- Chevrolet Tahoe – 2011-2012
- Daewoo G2X – 2007-2009
- GMC Sierra LD – 2011-2012
- GMC Sierra HD – 2011-2012
- GMC Yukon – 2011-2012
- GMC Yukon XL – 2011-2012
- Oldsmobile Alero – 1999-2004
- Oldsmobile Intrigue – 1998-2002
- Opel/Vauxhall GT – 2007-2010
- Pontiac G4 -2005-2006
- Pontiac G5 – 2007-2010
- Pontiac Grand Am – 1999-2005
- Pontiac Grand Prix – 2004-2008
- Pontiac Pursuit – 2005-2006
- Pontiac Solstice – 2006-2010
- Saturn Ion – 2003-2007
- Saturn Sky – 2007-2010
How Fatal Accidents in GM Cars Recalled For Defective Ignition Switches Have Occurred
In the recalled cars, the ignition switch can turn off the engine and shut off the car’s electrical system on its own. This can occur if the ignition key is inadvertently jarred. Or it can occur when the car goes over a bump. GM has also 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.
For the example, on July 29, 2005, Amber Marie Rose, age 16, died after her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt crashed and the air bag failed to deploy. Ms. Rose’s death was the first of the 303 deaths linked to the problem, and, the New York Times reports, “was an early warning in what would become a decade-long failure by GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to address a problem that engineers and regulators had been alerted to years ago.”
As Fatal Accidents Occurred, GM Failed to Recall the Faulty Cars
For years, GM tracked crashes in which the air bags in its cars did not deploy but did not issue a recall and fix the defect with its ignition switches.
According to the most recent chronology prepared by GM, 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.
GM engineers encountered the problem again in 2004 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. But, 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 begin a Chevrolet recall, to recall the Cobalt and G5 vehicles.
On June 5, 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report acknowledging its failure to investigate the General Motors ignition switch defects, which has been linked to at least 109 deaths, and not holding the automaker accountable. As a result, the government is taking steps to improve its investigative procedures and regulation of auto safety.
The NHTSA report used stark language to declare that “GM withheld critical information about engineering changes that would have allowed NHTSA to more quickly identify the defect.” The report stated that GM knew about the defect since 2001, more than a decade before a recall was announced in 2014, and failed to inform authorities of the safety hazard. In addition, “further investigation of GM’s internal practices revealed a culture that was encouraged, even with word choice, to avoid discussing defects and problems openly,” according to the NHTSA report.
Legal Rights of Those Injured by Defective Cars
Automakers have a legal duty to produce cars that are safe, and promptly correct any known safety defects. 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.
If the driver or occupant was killed, surviving families members may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Contact Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser has successfully represented persons across the United States injured in car accidents due to safety defects in the vehicle.
If you or a family member have been injured in an accident linked to a faulty GM ignition key or switch, please use the form below to contact Lieff Cabraser for a prompt and confidential evaluation of your case. Or call us toll-free at 1 800 541-7358 and ask to speak with auto accident attorneys Fabrice N. Vincent.