GM expands vehicle recall over deaths linked to ignition switch problem

by Michael Heygood

General Motors has announced an expanded recall of 1.37 million cars, citing 13 deaths that have been linked to ignition problems with the vehicles. The recall covers several Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Saturn models manufactured by General Motors between 2003 and 2007.

According to a General Motors press release, the ignition on the recalled vehicles can accidentally switch out of the “Run” position while the vehicle is being driven. When this problem occurs, the vehicle’s engine shuts off, causing power brakes, power steering, and airbags to stop working. At least 31 frontal crashes have been blamed on this problem with the recalled GM vehicles.

This latest recall notice expands upon an earlier recall of 778,000 vehicles that was announced by GM this month. The complete list of vehicles included in the expanded GM recall includes all 2003-2007 vehicles for the following models:

  • Chevrolet Cobalt
  • Chevrolet HHR
  • Pontiac G5
  • Pontiac Solstice
  • Saturn Ion
  • Saturn Sky

Owners of the recalled models can bring their vehicle to a GM dealership, which will replace its ignition switch for no charge.

GM has advised owners of the recalled models to avoid hanging anything other than car keys on the keychain for their vehicles. The company says that the weight of additional objects on the keychain increases the chance that the key will turn accidentally, causing the vehicle to turn off while driving.

GM accused of ignoring federal safety regulations

GM has been accused of waiting too long after learning about the problem with these vehicles to issue the recall notice. According to a lawsuit filed against the company, a GM engineer noticed the ignition problem during a test drive in 2004. Testing by other engineers in 2005 revealed a problem with the ignition switch on the vehicles.

Experts believe that GM may have violated federal safety rules by waiting more than eight years to report ignition problems with its vehicles. Under current federal law, vehicle manufacturers are required to report safety defects with their vehicles to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) within five days.

Failure to report safety defects to the NHTSA can result in a maximum fine of up to $35 million. Ford was forced to pay the $35 million maximum fine in October 2013 for failing to report gas pedal problems that could lead to an accident. In December 2010, Toyota was forced to pay fines totaling more Than $32 million for failing to report accelerator pedal and steering problems with its vehicles.

GM has argued in documents filed with the NHTSA that it did not report the ignition problems with its vehicles because its engineers did not originally think that they were “safety related.” According to the company, steering and brakes on the vehicles would continue to work—albeit without power assistance—even when the vehicle was turned off while driving. The company changed its mind about the extent of problems with the recalled vehicles after at least 13 deaths and 31 frontal crashes occurred due to the ignition problem.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and Automotive Litigation

The manufacturers of cars and trucks have an obligation to ensure that the vehicles they sell are as safe as possible under current technology, vehicle design, and safety standards. Automakers are also obligated to design cars and trucks that are safe for any reasonable foreseeable use. Cars must be both reasonably safe when an accident occurs while also being equipped with technology that could help prevent a crash from occurring. When vehicles are not manufactured in accordance with current safety standards and federal laws governing vehicle safety, the car maker may be held liable in a court of law for the injuries caused by their vehicles.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car accident, it may well be that the accident was caused by a defect with the automobile. It is also possible that your injuries were caused or made worse because the vehicle was not sufficiently crashworthy. 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 cases involving automotive defects and vehicle crashworthiness against any of the major auto manufacturers. For a free legal consultation about your case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free contact form on this site.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.