GM Reveals More Deaths, Injuries Possibly Caused by Faulty Ignition Switches
For several months, General Motors has insisted that no more than 13 deaths have been proven to be connected to faulty ignition switches in GM cars. However, in a recent quarterly filing, GM revealed that it has received complaints of 17 additional deaths in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, two brands that have been plagued with ignition problems.
In a quarterly Early Warning Report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM revealed that it received reports and complaints during January to March of another 17 deaths and 167 injuries in Cobalts and Saturns in which ignition switch malfunctions are suspected.
Federal law requires auto manufacturers to file the Early Warning Reports quarterly to alert the NHTSA of fatalities and injuries which are claimed to be connected to a defective product. Such claims may include lawsuits, news reports and customer complaints, and may not have been proven or investigated. The NHTSA uses the information to identify problems that require further investigation.
During 2014, GM has announced a series of 60 recalls involving 29 million vehicles, including more than 17 million that have faulty ignition switches. Although GM has maintained that no more 13 deaths have been proven to be linked to the defective ignition switches, the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety has identified more than 300 traffic fatalities that involved GM vehicles in accidents similar to known ignition switch-related accidents.
Although GM has not released the identities of the 13 fatalities it has acknowledged, the New York Times has reported that it has identified 12 of the 13 victims. The 12 deaths occurred from 2004 to 2013; all but one happened in single-car crashes in which the driver lost control and smashed into a tree or other object; in each accident, the air bags did not deploy.
In scores of lawsuits which have been filed across the country, plaintiffs have contended not only that defective GM vehicles have caused fatalities and serious injuries, but that GM knew about the defects for 11 years or longer but did not warn the public. The problems came to widespread attention in February, when GM began a series of recalls involving tens of millions of vehicles.
The new complaints GM received during the first quarter of 2014 may have arisen because the public has learned only this year that defective ignition switches in GM vehicles may be linked to traffic accidents.
The Early Warning Report requirement became law in 2000 in response to the Firestone tire-Ford Explorer problems of the 1990s. Firestone tires, original equipment on many Ford Explorers, experienced tread separation that caused vehicle rollovers. More than 250 deaths and more than 3,000 serious injuries have been connected to the problem.
Although the tire-related accidents had been occurring for years, they did not become public knowledge until 2000. The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act was enacted that year to give the NHTSA the information it needed to identify such problems early and warn the public.
However, one complaint that has emerged from the GM recalls is that the NHTSA has known about GM’s ignition switch problems for years but has failed to take sufficient action.
Bills have been introduced this year which would make the Early Warning filings open to the public and available in a searchable online database. The NHTSA currently treats the filings as trade secrets, which keeps them confidential and shields them from the Freedom of Information Act. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2014 would make the Early Warning Reports public, enabling watchdog groups not only to keep an eye on manufacturers but on the NHTSA.
Sen. Edward Markey, one author of the proposed legislation, called the NHTSA’s failure to investigate GM’s ignition switches a “massive information breakdown.”
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For more information about GM lawsuits, contact an Oklahoma City car accident attorney. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident involving a GM car that may have been caused by an ignition switch problem or the airbag did not deploy, contact our office to discuss your legal rights. You may be entitled to financial compensation for your harms and losses.
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