On the surface, the massive General Motors recall of faulty ignition switches is like any other safety recall. GM recognized that there was a defect in their product that put consumers at risk and issued a recall of 2.6 million vehicles. However, this auto recall is different. According to a recent news report in The Consumerist, GM spent about a decade failing to issue a recall despite possessing full knowledge that the ignitions were dangerous. This failure to act has lead to at least 13 traffic deaths and it has sparked a civil and criminal investigation into the practices of GM.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently looking into when GM became aware of the ignition defect. The first report of a potential problem was documented in the pre-production notes of the 2002 Saturn Ion back in 2001-2002. GM also knew there was an issue with the ignition switch of the Chevy Cobalt in 2005 because they opened a number of engineering inquiries into the problem. In 2007, the NHTSA threatened to open an investigation because of reports of cars turning off. However, it wasn’t until 2012-2013 that GM admitted that the ignition switches were in fact broken, resulting in the recall of 2.6 million vehicles in 2014.
It is important to review this timeline because every day that GM failed to act was another day that drivers and passengers were put at risk. The 13 traffic deaths related to the defect may just be the tip of the iceberg. For example, the Center for Auto Safety reports that about 303 people may have died in accidents involving Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts.
In these crashes, the airbags failed to deploy because the ignition defect turned off the power to the airbag system. It is not clear how many of these deaths could have been prevented if GM had issued a recall sooner, but some of the injuries suffered in those crashes may not have proved fatal if the ignition defect did not prevent the airbags from deploying properly.
It may take years to get to the bottom of what went wrong and what GM could have done differently. In the meantime, there are a number of families who have lost loved ones because of defective parts that should have been recalled sooner. If you are one of the many families who have suffered a loss because of defective auto parts, it is important that you contact an experienced Atlanta product liability lawyer to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.