General Motors Settles Two Bellwether Cases Involving Defective Ignition Switches

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

On September 5, 2016, General Motors announced that it had settled two cases involving defective ignition switches. One case was set to go to trial on September 12.

Both of the lawsuits involved injuries in accidents linked to the faulty ignition switches, USA Today reports. The plaintiffs in these cases chose not to participate in a settlement program set up a year ago.

The ignition switch defect resulted in the recall of millions of GM cars worldwide. The faulty switch can unexpectedly move from the “run” position to the “off” position, causing the engine to suddenly switch off when the car is in motion, Top Class Actions reports.

In September 2015, GM agreed to a $900 million criminal settlement, ending the federal government’s investigation into faulty ignition switches in the Chevy Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other small GM cars. The settlement resolved more half of the death and personal injury lawsuits in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) against GM. A compensation fund, administered by Kenneth Feinberg who administered the September 11 compensation fund, is distributing settlement funds to people injured in crashes linked to the defective switches and to the families of those killed in such crashes.

In 2014, GM recalled about1.6 million vehicles because of the ignition switch defect. In cars with the defective switch, if the switch is bumped or jostled, it can move from the “run” position to “off,” shutting off the engine and disabling the air bags and electronic systems such as power steering. The defective ignition switch was allegedly linked to 124 deaths and numerous injuries.

GM was accused of ignoring warnings and evidence about the faulty ignition switches for more than a decade. Investigators say the company could have acted earlier when far fewer cars were involved. Before agreeing to a recall, GM had issued an advisory through dealers recommending that owners remove everything but the car key from their key chain to reduce the chance that the weight of the key chain would cause an unexpected engine shutdown.

The ignition switch defect affects vehicles including: 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-2010 Saturn Sky vehicles. The recall includes 1.96 million vehicles in the United States, and 2.36 million worldwide.

Many of the recalled cars were models from the mid-2000s and were no longer owned by the original buyers, making it difficult to locate the car’s current owner. The size of the recall also made it difficult for dealers to get a sufficient replacement parts and schedule all the necessary repairs.

A sudden engine shutdown can create difficult and dangerous conditions for the driver, depriving the driver of power steering and power brakes. Airbags would not deploy during a frontal crash. Some drivers who experienced a sudden engine shut off were able to get their vehicles safely off the road but other drivers could not, resulting in numerous accidents.