The number of people killed in accidents caused by a faulty ignition switch in some General Motors vehicles could be potentially 25 times higher than the automaker says it is, according to recent news reports.
Last month, GM recalled 1.6 million of its cars for a defect in the ignition component that could cause the engine to shut off and disable crucial safety systems, such as the air bags, power steering and anti-lock brakes. The shut-off could be triggered by a heavy key chain or if a driver inadvertently jostled the key while driving. Since then, the automaker added another 971,000 vehicles to that recall, bringing the total up to 2.6 million.
The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog group in Washington, D.C., performed an independent study of federal crash data in the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2003-2007 Saturn Ions – two of the recalled models – and found that as many as 303 front-seat occupant deaths in which the air bags did not deploy could have been caused by the ignition defect. So far, GM has only attributed the ignition problem to 12 deaths and 34 crashes in the Cobalts, Ions and four other models.
The Center for Auto Safety also wrote a letter stating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not act quickly enough when reports of ignition shut-offs surfaced in 2001. Federal investigators and committees within the U.S. House and Senate are looking into the issue further.
In the meantime, GM has issued a rare apology for not responding more quickly to the ignition issue when problems became apparent and increased in frequency. GM noted that the crash data obtained by the Center for Auto Safety cannot directly link the deaths to the ignition defect, and asserted that other faulty systems could also have caused the air bags to fail, not just the ignition problem.
The Recalled Models
Six GM models were recalled, all who share the same ignition component:
- 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
- 2003-2007 Saturn Ion
- 2007 Pontiac G5
- 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR
- 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice
- 2007 Saturn Sky
None of these cars are in production anymore. If you are currently driving one of the affected models, GM has urged all such motorists to take their cars to dealers to have the ignition systems replaced. In the meantime, the automaker recommends that drivers keep their key chains lightweight, with just the vehicle key attached.
GM’s Product Liability
General Motors’ liability for death or injuries caused by this problem is very complicated because of the bankruptcy proceeding, which GM went through after the financial crisis in 2008-2009.
Products-liability lawsuits hinge on the notion that consumers are entitled to believe that they are sold safe, quality products. Normally when an injury happens due to a dangerous defect, some parties may be held accountable. Different rules apply in different states.
If you or a loved one was injured or killed in a faulty-ignition accident involving one of the recalled GM models, it is possible that you have a valid legal claim. Talking to an attorney is the first place to start in sorting out this very complicated question. Investigation of this sort of issue needs to begin promptly after any suspect event so that any important evidence can be tracked down and preserved, and to make sure that claims are not lost due to the passage of time or the loss of vital information.