More than 2 million General Motors vehicles sold in the U.S. contain an ignition switch defect that can cause the engine and electrical system to shut off, leaving the driver with no airbags or power steering. The number of deaths caused by this defect has been estimated as low as 13 and as high as 74.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, affected vehicles include:
First of all, remove all items from your key ring, leaving only your vehicle key. No additional weight, including the key fob, should be added to the key ring. Contact a GM dealer in your area to arrange an appointment to have the ignition switch replaced as soon as possible.
If you drive a vehicle with automatic transmission, make sure the car is in “Park” before removing the key from the ignition. For manual transmissions, ensure you have put the car in reverse and engaged the parking brake.
Under California law, you are entitled to certain damages if your car is manufactured with a defective part. With the help of a lawyer, you could win damages for:
Contact a lawyer immediately if you or a family member were involved in a car accident with one of the listed vehicles and the air bags failed to deploy.
In June 2014, GM announced plans to implement a compensation program for those who have lost family members or sustained physical injury due to the defect. The fund will be headed by Kenneth Feinberg, who directed the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which benefited the families of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting victims. The GM fund is expected to begin taking claims in August 2014.
The faulty ignition switch is triggered by additional weight on the key ring, rough road conditions, or other jarring events. The ignition switch can move out of the “run” position, turning off the engine and cutting off the electrical power. In the event of a crash, airbags will not deploy and the risk of injury or death increases.
Drivers of affected vehicles may also be able to remove the ignition key when the ignition is not set to “Off.” This can cause the car to move unexpectedly in both automatic and manual transmission vehicles.
For example, Saturn Ion drivers submitted complaints to the National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration describing life-threatening, unexpected engine stalls—amounting to more than 550 complaints for just the 2003 model. Drivers detailed experiences of being “nearly killed in the vehicle twice” when the engine shut off, or “on three different occasions, my knee has accidentally hit the keys, causing the engine to shut off” at high speeds.
Amber Marie Rose, a 16-year-old resident of Maryland, was killed in July 2005 when her Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch shut down the electrical system and airbags, preventing them from engaging when she crashed into a tree. Two years later, safety officials informed GM of the problem, but no one opened a formal investigation.
Employees at GM learned of the ignition switch problem as early as 2004, when a Chevrolet Cobalt stalled on a GM test track. GM did not recall the vehicles until February 2014, following an internal investigation that spanned two and a half years.
Reuters obtained emails from 2005 that show, even though Delphi Automotive told GM the switch did not meet the automaker’s performance specifications, GM continued to use Delphi switches. In 2006, the company redesigned the ignition switch, but the part number was not changed and the new equipment did not reach GM product safety standards. Later, managers rejected several proposals to fix the faulty ignition switch due concerns over the cost of retooling.
It is now estimated that fixing the faulty part would have cost approximately 90 cents per vehicle.
In the years since, approximately 2.6 million vehicles have been produced with this faulty ignition switch. Lawmakers have pledged to hold additional hearings with GM to determine how the managerial and communication missteps occurred. CEO Mary Barra, who has led the company since January 2014, testified in front of the United States House Energy Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in April.
In May 2014, GM was hit with a $35 million civil penalty from the U.S. government after an investigation that determined the company delayed reporting the defect. Private lawsuits have also been filed against GM and Delphi Automotive, the manufacturer who produced the defective ignition switches.
As of June 2014, 15 GM employees linked to the ignition switch defect had been fired, and an additional five had been disciplined. A report from former U.S. attorney Anton R. Valukas did not link the oversight or faulty part to top executives, but attributed the problem to misdiagnosis, a lack of urgency, and a corporate culture that did not encourage employees to take responsibility.
Welebir | Tierney are qualified attorneys in cases involving defective car parts in the Inland Empire, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and other parts of Southern California. Contact our offices for a free case evaluation today if you or a loved one was affected by a defective GM ignition switch. The people of Southern California have trusted Welebir | Tierney in personal injury cases for over four decades. If necessary, our experienced attorneys will guide your case all the way through trial.