107 Deaths and Counting: The Defect in GM’s Ignition

General Motors has had its share of problems over the past decade: a perceived image of lessening quality cars, a sharp decline in sales throughout the 2000s, and even a bankruptcy in 2009.  Each of those problems pales in comparison to the one which the automaker now has to direct its attention.  Simply put, GM consumers are dying or becoming seriously injured behind the wheel, and GM’s faulty equipment is to blame.  In particular, the ignition switch on numerous GM vehicles has proven defective, and can cause the vehicle’s engine and electronics to shut down, leading to air bag failure and other catastrophic results.  To this date, there have been over 12 million recalls of GM vehicles, deaths in the double digits, and countless other injuries which have altered the lives of many.  For perspective regarding how widespread this defect really is, here is a timeline of the events which led up to GM’s first wave of recalls of their product: http://money.cnn.com/infographic/pf/autos/gm-recall-timeline/

Unfortunately, the story does not stop at the above link.  In fact, things have only become exponentially worse for both General Motors and its consumers.  Since the recalls of 2014, faulty ignition switches have been tied to thousands of instances where air bags in GM vehicles did not deploy, leading to the death or serious injury of thousands.  These catastrophes, which have affected not only individuals, but their friends and families as well, could have easily been avoided by General Motors.  According to lawmakers who grilled GM’s CEO on this issue, the automaker could have fixed the defective ignition switch for only 57 cents per vehicle.   Further, the list of vehicles recalled for faulty ignition switches is staggering, which explains the vast amount of GM-drivers who have already suffered injury, and provides warning for the rest:

In an attempt to save face, General Motors has established a settlement program for ignition switch defect lawsuits, which approximates about $1 million for each ignition defect-caused death.  This settlement program is far too little, and much too late.  It is impossible to quantify the value of each life lost due to a preventable and known defect, as anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, but 57 cents per vehicle is hardly a prohibitive cost to one of the largest automakers in the world.  And let’s not forget, there is NO fund for those injured due to faulty ignition switched.  GM knew of this issue as early as 2001, and the first death linked to GM’s faulty ignition switches occurred a decade ago, in 2005.  This means that, at the very least, General Motors stood idly by as its consumers risked death for a decade. Each time an individual turned the key in their Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Daewoo, GMC, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, or Saturn, their life (and the lives of any passengers) was at risk for the duration of that drive. 

As a result of GM’s apparently willful actions, federal prosecutors have recently become involved, and are likely to bring criminal charges against General Motors.  As of now, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office has concluded that GM likely broke the law by making misstatements about the ignition-switch defect for more than a decade, and some individual employees may even be charged.  While these charges against General Motors have not yet been finalized, fines levied against the automaker are expected to be in excess of $1 billion. 

If you or a loved one has experienced any of the above issues related to a faulty ignition switch in any GM model vehicle, you have legal rights which can be asserted.  GM had and has a duty to produce vehicles that are safe, and to correct all known safety defects as they are discovered.  In a products liability lawsuit against automakers such as General Motors, in which a defective part is responsible for your injury, you may be entitled to: 1) past and future pain and suffering, mental anguish, and physical impairment; 2) past and future medical, incidental, and hospital expenses; 3) past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity; and 4) punitive damages for egregious misconduct.  In worst case scenarios, surviving family members of a killed driver or passenger may file a wrongful death suit against the auto manufacturer.