General Motors Ignition Switch Recalls
General Motors (GM) remains one of the largest employers in Ohio, operating some eight different manufacturing sites in the state. According to the Ohio Motor Vehicle Industry, Ohio ranks third in overall motor vehicle industry output, assembling nearly 1.5 million cars and light trucks in 2013.
Unfortunately, back in 2008, Ohio GM plants also put out some of the infamous Chevrolet Cobalts that would later go on to be recalled because of ignition switch problems. Of course, it wasn’t the fault of the factory or the workers, but the mishandling of the issue by the company, who was aware of the problem as far back as 2001, but didn’t act to properly protect public safety until 2014.
GM has now recalled about 2.6 million vehicles in the United States to replace defective ignition switches, and has acknowledged over 100 deaths and about 200 injuries as associated with the problem.
The Pittsburgh GM ignition switch lawyers at Chaffin Luhana stand ready to assist individuals throughout the Ohio Valley in West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio who were injured in accidents involving a malfunctioning ignition switch. Such accidents can leave families reeling with overwhelming medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and uncertain futures. We may be able to help.
How the GM Ignition Switch Defect Affects Families Around the Pittsburgh Area
The problem is that the ignition switch in these vehicles can turn to the “off” position without warning. Heavy key rings can increase risk of this happening, but wear and tear, jostling of the keys while they’re in the ignition, bumping them by mistake, and other typical occurrences can also result in the ignition switch turning without warning.
When this happens, the vehicle is suddenly without power—which means no power steering, power brakes, or power supply to the air bags. If the driver is in an accident while the ignition switch is off, the air bags won’t deploy, greatly increasing risk of serious injury and death.
When GM first starting recalling vehicles to replace these faulty ignition switches in 2014, they acknowledged only 13 deaths as being caused by the problem. Today, they admit that over 100 people were killed in accidents where the ignition switch was off.
Injuries Possible in a GM Ignition Switch Accident
Individuals driving in Pittsburgh or the surrounding Ohio Valley area who are involved in an accident where the ignition switch malfunctions may suffer moderate or severe injuries or even death.
More severe injuries may include:
• Paralysis, quadriplegia
• Head injuries
• Brain damage
• Pervasive burns
Moderate injuries—those that still require hospitalization—may 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
Residents of Pittsburgh and other surrounding areas who suffered these or other injuries requiring hospitalization—or families of victims killed in these accidents—may be eligible to file a GM ignition switch lawsuit in an effort to recover damages.
GM Failed to Protect the Public
Plaintiffs are justified in seeking damages from GM because the company was negligent in protecting consumers from unnecessary harm. The New York Times reported that while working on the Saturn Ion, employees noticed the ignition switch could turn into the off position, but later documented that they had fixed the problem.
They obviously hadn’t. Again in 2003, a technician noticed a vehicle stalled because the ignition switch turned off, but the problem was believed to be caused by a worn out switch. In 2004, employees found that the Chevrolet Cobalt had the same issue. They suggested a solution, but the company rejected it as too costly. That summer, 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose, died when she got into an accident in which the air bags didn’t deploy. GM later settled with the family out of court.
It’s obvious at this point that the company knew something was up, because in December 2005, they sent a notice out to dealers advising them to warn consumers not to load up their key chains. Heavy key chains, the notice stated, could increase risk that the ignition switch would turn off. The company did not implement any recalls, however.
And so it went for years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thought a couple of times they should investigate the reports of crashes in which GM air bags did not deploy, but twice they decided it wasn’t a problem.
Finally, in 2012, GM had to face the fact that four crashes and four fatalities were linked to the defect. Still, they didn’t start recalling vehicles until February of 2014.
Why Pittsburgh Area Drivers Need to Check Their Vehicles for GM Recalls
By the beginning of 2015, GM had recalled about 2.6 million vehicles in the U.S. because they had faulty ignition switches. Pittsburgh area drivers are encouraged to check the company’s website to see if their vehicles need to be repaired:
Among the affected vehicles include older models (between 2003 and 2007) of Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky.
GM implemented a number of other recalls—affecting about 27 million vehicles total—for other reasons. Pittsburgh and Ohio Valley residents who own GM vehicles may also need repairs on:
• Safety belts
• Air bags
• Gearshift cables
• Retention clips
• Power steering
For their mishandling of the issue, GM was fined $35 million by the federal government.
Some Plaintiffs Compensated Through GM Settlement Fund
On August 1, 2014, GM set up a settlement fund to consider claims from victims who were injured, or from family members of those who were killed, because of the ignition switch defect. They appointed attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg to independently review the claims and determine which were deserving of compensation.
The fund remained open to new claims until January 31, 2015. Over 4,300 claims were submitted, though many were eventually dismissed because they lacked the appropriate documentation. By the early summer of 2015, over 100 wrongful death claims had been approved, and about 200 injury claims. Plaintiffs had to show evidence that the ignition switch problem was a factor in the accident, but other factors—such as the driver being under the influence, or driving too fast—did not hinder plaintiffs’ chances at a settlement.
GM’s 2009 bankruptcy also did not affect plaintiff claims, though it has affected other plaintiffs seeking compensation in court.
How GM’s 2009 Bankruptcy Affects Ohio Valley Claims
Because GM went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, it split into two entities: the “old” GM, which inherited the bad assets, and the “new” GM, which continues to do business today.
GM recently sought to have several ignition switch lawsuits dismissed because they involved cars made before the 2009 bankruptcy occurred. Such claims, GM argued, would have to be made against the old GM. Plaintiffs argued that the company had misled the public by failing to reveal the ignition switch problem until after the bankruptcy, and that the court should still hear their claims, but a decision by bankruptcy judge Robert Gerber dashed their hopes for the time being.
Suing the old GM would yield negligible results, as the company already has many financial burdens and is not a viable source of funds for victims. Plaintiffs have stated they will appeal. Meanwhile, those seeking compensation for problems with older vehicles should talk to a Pittsburgh GM ignition switch lawyer for advice on how to proceed.
Contact a GM Ignition Switch Lawyer in Pittsburgh
Currently, all federal GM ignition switch cases have been consolidated into the Southern District of New York. Consolidation seeks to make pre-trial proceedings more efficient and less costly, as both sides work together to assemble the facts and take witness testimony. The goal is to prepare for a few initial bellwether trials, currently scheduled for January 2016, which will help determine how juries may react to the evidence. In many cases, these early trials have created circumstances favorable to future settlements.
If you or a loved one were involved in an accident in which the ignition switch didn’t operate as expected, call an experienced lawyer in Pittsburgh, PA. He or she can help investigate the facts of the case, and help you determine the best course of action for recovering the money you need to manage the effects of your accident. Chaffin Luhana Pittsburgh attorneys represent individuals in West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Eastern Ohio, and will give you an initial consultation for free. Contact us today.