General Motors Ignition Switch Recalls
Over 100 people have lost their lives because they were driving a General Motors (GM) vehicle with a faulty ignition switch. Yet when GM first starting recalling vehicles to fix that switch in February of 2014, they acknowledged only 13 deaths as being linked to the problem.
Today, we know that hundreds of people were injured and killed when their ignition switches failed to perform as expected, and that GM knew about the problem for over a decade, but failed to take appropriate action to protect the public.
Some of the victims have already agreed to settlements with the company, but hundreds more are currently involved in litigation, in the hopes of recovering damages for severe injuries and wrongful death.
GM Ignition Switch Recall Information
GM’s faulty ignition switches can inadvertently turn into the “off” position. When this happens, the vehicle is suddenly left without power to run the steering or the brakes, or to deploy the air bags. This can be especially dangerous during an accident, when the lack of air bags can cause occupants to suffer much more serious injuries than they might have otherwise.
Such was the case with 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose, who died when her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt suffered an ignition switch malfunction. She was driving in Dentsville, Maryland, when it happened. Her air bags failed to deploy, and she was killed in the accident.
Though alcohol was reportedly involved, an investigator hired by the family discovered that the air bags had not deployed. The family sued General Motors and reached an out-of-court settlement, but Rose’s death later became the first to be officially linked to the ignition switch defect.
Types of Injuries Drivers May Suffer from Ignition Switch Crashes
Injuries associated with GM’s faulty ignition switch have been divided into two groups: a) Category One, and b) Category Two. Those in Category One were considered severe injuries, while those in Category Two were less severe injuries that still required hospitalization or outpatient medical treatment.
Types of injuries in Category One include:
• Paralysis, quadriplegia
• Head injuries
• Brain damage
• Pervasive burns
Types of injuries in Category Two include:
• Broken bones
• Lacerations, serious cuts and burns
• Spinal injuries
• Head injuries, such as cuts and bruising, or concussion
• Neck injuries, such as those damaging the larynx or trachea
• Chest injuries, such as broken ribs or internal injuries
• Arm and leg injuries, including sprains and breaks
• Abdominal injuries, such as pelvic fractures and injuries to internal abdominal organs
• Foot injuries, including sprains and breaks
Drivers who suffered these types of injuries related to an ignition switch defect may be eligible to file a lawsuit against GM to recover damages.
GM’s Slow Reaction to the Ignition Switch Problem
In March 2014, the New York Times revealed that GM had received reports of problems with its ignition switches as early as 2001. At the time, the company said it was working on developing the Saturn Ion, and it found that the ignition switch could suddenly turn to the “off” position. According to their records, however, they fixed the problem.
In 2003, however, a service technician made an inquiry because he noticed a vehicle stalled after the ignition switch turned off—while the vehicle was in motion. The problem was blamed on a “heavy” key ring, which technicians concluded had “worn out” the switch.
The problem popped up again in 2004, when the company found that the 2005 model Chevy Cobalt had the same issue—the switch could easily turn off, particularly if bumped slightly. In March 2005, employees suggested a solution, but the company rejected it, saying it was too costly. It was in July of this year that Amber Marie Rose died.
In December, GM sent dealers a notice alerting them to the defect, and advising them to tell customers to remove unessential items from the key chain, to avoid an inadvertent shut-off.
Then, in 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended an investigation into the fact that air bags didn’t deploy in crashes involving Saturn Ions and Chevrolet Cobalts. Later that year, their Office of Defects Investigation determined there was no correlation between the crashes and the air bag failures, so the suggestion went nowhere.
GM went through a bankruptcy in 2009, and in 2010, the NHTSA again recommended an investigation, but nothing was done. It wasn’t until 2012 that GM finally attributed four crashes (involving four deaths) and six injuries to the defect.
GM Recall Finally Comes in 2014
Despite their findings in 2012, GM didn’t implement a recall to actually repair the faulty switches until February 2014. This action was prompted by findings in late 2013 that the switch was to blame for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
Starting on February 13, 2014, GM recalled Chevrolet Cobalt (models 2005-7) and Pontiac G5 (models 2007). A couple weeks later, it followed up with more, including Saturn Ion (models 2003-7), Chevrolet HHR (models 2006-7), Pontiac Solstice (models 2006-7), and Saturn Sky (2007) vehicles.
Soon after these initial recalls, the Justice Department and the NHTSA launched investigations into the company’s handling of the ignition switch problem. In the end, the company recalled 2.6 million vehicles because of the ignition switch defect, and agreed to pay a $35 million fine for their mishandling of the issue.
For a list of all vehicles affected by the ignition switch recall, please see GM’s page: http://www.gmignitionupdate.com/product/public/us/en/GMIgnitionUpdate/index.html
GM Implements Additional Recalls
The same year GM began recalling vehicles for ignition switch problems, they also implemented a number of other recalls for other problems, including issues with:
• Safety belts
• Air bags
• Gearshift cables
• Retention clips
• Power steering
At the end of 2014, GM had recalled about 27 million vehicles in the United States, a record for any single automaker.
GM Offers Victims Compensation
On August 1, 2014, GM began taking claims from plaintiffs seeking compensation for ignition-switch-related injuries and deaths. They hired Kenneth R. Feinberg, an independent claims administrator, to review the claims and approve those deemed eligible for payouts.
Feinberg retained sole discretion over the compensation awards, though he noted that GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, which shielded the company from court claims involving cars made prior to the bankruptcy, would not affect claims in GM’s settlement fund. Driver behavior, such as speeding or driving intoxicated, was also not a factor in whether or not plaintiffs received settlements.
Claims did have to involve the vehicles named in the recall, and plaintiffs had to have evidence that the ignition switch was part of the cause of the accident and/or injuries. Awards started at $1 million for each death, and GM placed no caps on the amount of money available for payments.
The fund was open to new claims until January 31, 2015. Just over 4,300 claims were received. Many lacked the appropriate documentation and were dismissed. Others were deemed ineligible for payouts. Over 100 claims involving deaths, however, and around 200 involving injuries, were approved. Plaintiffs who agreed to take the settlements gave up their rights to pursue additional compensation in court.
Bankruptcy Limits Options for Some Plaintiffs
According to the law, claims brought against GM for vehicles made before the bankruptcy in 2009 would have to be brought against the “old” GM. That company inherited all the bad assets, however, making it near impossible to recover any damages from it.
Plaintiffs who suffered injuries in cars made before 2009 filed GM lawsuits anyway, in the hopes the court would reconsider their claims, based on GM’s failure to alert consumers to the ignition switch problem prior to the bankruptcy. GM sought to get these claims dismissed, based on standard bankruptcy law.
Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber agreed with GM, effectively shielding them from a number of lawsuits. Plaintiffs have stated they intend to appeal.
In June 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all federal GM ignition switch lawsuits into one court in the Southern District of New York. Judge Jesse M. Furman is overseeing the proceedings. So far, the parties are involved in selecting cases to be considered for the initial bellwether trials, which are the first cases tried in any multidistrict litigation. These trials will help determine the juries’ reactions to the evidence, and may pave the way for future settlements between the parties.
Currently, the first bellwether trials are expected to begin in January 2016.
A GM Ignition Switch Lawyer Can Help
If you or a loved one was the victim of an automobile crash involving the GM ignition switch defect—or any other GM defect covered by a recall—we can help. The legal professionals at Chaffin Luhana have decades of experience fighting for the rights of those who were wrongfully injured, and can offer you the expertise you need to gain the compensation you deserve. Call us today for a free initial case evaluation at 1-888-316-2311.