GM concealed ignition switch defect before fatal crash, then hid ‘black box’ data recorder, wrongful death lawsuit alleges

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by Eric Pearson

Benjamin Hair died from a car accident in Virginia in 2009. The 20-year-old lost control of his 2007 Pontiac G5 and hit a tree at 50 mph. He had no drugs or alcohol in his system, and he was not speeding. No airbags went off on impact.

Not long after the fatal crash, Hair’s parents started receiving recall notices in the mail from GM. Hair’s Pontiac G5 was one of the 2.5 million vehicles recalled by GM for an ignition switch defect: when the ignition switch fails, the car suddenly powers down, and cuts off the power steering, power brakes and air bags. Federal regulators have since fined GM $35 million, the maximum allowable under the law, for failing to timely report the defect.

Hairs’ parents have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against GM, alleging that GM concealed the ignition switch defect that caused their son’s fatal car crash. According to the parents, they contacted GM and asked that it investigate the accident. They allege that, despite being given written notice that the car was available for inspection, GM made no effort to inspect or preserve the vehicle. The car was eventually destroyed.

The Hairs allege that they discovered—only after the car was destroyed— that the car contained an Event Data Recorder imbedded in the vehicle’s floor. The Event Data Recorder contains information about the vehicle at impact, such as speed, braking degree and ignition position. The Hairs accuse GM of fraudulently concealing the existence of the Event Data Recorder from them despite knowing that the vehicle would eventually be destroyed.

The Hairs’ lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages against GM. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Defective products: protect your rights

To successfully bring a claim involving a defective product, clients need an experienced, educated attorney on their side. They also need an attorney with the financial resources to take the case to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have tried hundreds of cases to verdict and have settled hundreds more. In 2010 alone, we negotiated settlements of personal injury and wrongful death claims totaling more than $50 million.

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HO&P and Auto Safety

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car or truck, it may well be that the injuries were caused or made worse because the vehicle was not properly designed or manufactured. In order to determine whether you may have a case, you need to retain experienced, qualified legal counsel at the earliest opportunity. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have the experience and knowledge to pursue product liability claims against any of the major auto manufacturers.

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Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.