A former federal prosecutor recently issued a 315-page report providing details of General Motors’ knowledge of an ignition switch defect that caused numerous accidents, injuries, and deaths. The auto manufacturer issued a recall in February 2014 of 2.6 million vehicles, and is paying a $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for failing to recall the vehicle in a timely manner. Now, the report seems to confirm suspicions that GM engineers knew of the defect since 2004 without issuing a safety recall.
The ignition switch defect resulting in the recall allows the key to switch to the accessory position while driving, which causes the car to stall and disables power steering, air bags, and other key functions. GM admits that the defect has been associated with at least 50 accidents, 13 deaths, and numerous injuries, but others contend that the death toll is much higher.
The report states the following:
- Engineers were first alerted to a possible problem when a car stalled out on a test track in 2004. The test driver’s leg accidentally hit the key and the ignition switch allowed the key to turn off. The problem was allegedly ignored at that time.
- GM received numerous complaints from consumers who experienced stalls while driving and lost control of their cars.
- GM engineers chose to classify the issue as a “customer satisfaction” issue instead of a safety issue. For this reason, no recall was issued and higher level executives were not notified of a problem.
- The switch engineer that designed the switch referred to it as the “switch from hell.” It is alleged that the engineer ordered a change in the switch in 2007 to help stop the problem, but the company did not change the part number or recall the original, faulty switches.
- In 2013, a plaintiff’s attorney suing GM on behalf of consumers deciding to investigate differences in ignition switches. Using an X-ray, he discovered that the switches were different in two different model years, confirming that the engineers had secretly changed the switch.
- The GM recall team was not notified of the deaths resulting from the defect, and therefore the team did not issue a recall until February of 2014.
If the plaintiff’s attorney had not taken the initiative to X-ray the two different ignitions, GM may have continued to cover up the defect at the risk of serious harm to consumers. This demonstrates the highly important role a quality product liability attorney can play in this type of case.
If you were injured in an accident caused by a GM defect, call the attorneys at Lopez McHugh, LLP for help today.