GM Recall Highlights Risk of Defective Vehicles

vehicle.jpgVehicle manufacturer General Motors has been facing intense scrutiny over the fact that administrators within the company were aware that a faulty ignition switch had deadly consequences, and yet did not inform the public for nearly a decade.

The recall initiated in recent weeks encompasses some 2.6 million vehicles, and has been associated with at least 13 deaths and many more injuries. More broadly, hundreds of deaths have been associated with GM vehicle airbags that failed to deploy – one of the issues reportedly caused by the faulty ignition switch.

Our defective vehicle attorneys know that disproportionate among those were young drivers. In a federal court in Texas, a possible class action against dealerships lists eight possible victims – seven of whom were under the age of 25. That the victims skew younger is due to a number of factors, including that the vehicles associated with the recall – Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts – were primarily marketed to entry-level drivers. Another issue is that, when faced with handling a vehicle that was suddenly hard-to-muscle as brakes and steering became unresponsive (both issued also suspected to be caused by the faulty switch), younger drivers were less likely to know what to do.

Regulators have learned that some GM administrators were aware of the faulty ignition problems as early as 2001. It wasn’t until 2005 that GM issued a statement indicating that if drivers suffered a power loss, all they would need to do was restart the engine in neutral.

But the problem was bigger.

Vehicle dealerships at that point began receiving complaints from vehicle owners who indicated that the cars shut down unexpectedly, sometimes in precarious spots such as the highway or in the middle of intersections. Many of those complaints came from parents, who said that teen drivers had wrecked in snowbanks or ditches after the vehicle suddenly turned off.

Among those was the mother of a 19-year-old from Colorado, whose Cobalt stalled just as he entered a highway off ramp traveling 70 miles-per-hour. He was sent careening into a ditch. He suffered a head injury, but miraculously survived. In Kentucky, the father of an 18-year-old girl reported her Cobalt stopped four separate times in the middle of the road in a single trip.

Even in cases where there was no crash, customers were rightly upset. There are hundreds of reports of customers asking dealers to give them another vehicle, as they were fearful the stalling would happen again.

What complicates this matter for victims is that in 2009, GM filed for bankruptcy, which could erase any prior liability it had to victims. However, the question becomes whether the car company will hide behind the shield, potentially resulting in a complete loss of confidence for motor vehicle consumers, which could cause sales to tank.

The company’s current CEO, Mary Barra, said the company is weighing whether to compensate victims – and how.

This is why some are exploring the pursuit of cases against the dealerships, as opposed to GM directly.

However, if GM does agree to pay some of the pre-2009 victims of the faulty ignition switch issue, it may open itself up to liability for thousands of unrelated claims for which it shed responsibility as part of the bankruptcy. In total, that is believed to be somewhere around 2,500 lawsuits that seek billions of dollars in damages.

The Ferraro Law Firm handles defective vehicle claims resulting in serious injury or wrongful death. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources:
GM car recall causes new wave of grief over deaths involving young drivers, April 4, 2014, By Jeff Green and Patrick G. Lee, Bloomberg News

More Blog Entries:
NHTSA: Defective Vehicles Affect Millions Annually, Feb. 7, 2013, Product Liability Lawyer Blog

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