GM’s Dirty Little Secret

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When the American auto industry floundered in the wake of the 2008 stock market debacle, the country was worried. Cars, after all, are the hallmark of the American way of life, and—even though the big American car manufacturers were partly responsible for their downslide—sympathy abounded. The Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—were in trouble. Yet, somehow, they miraculously rebounded. GM, which had declared bankruptcy in 2009, made a comeback. But ever since the revelation that GM has been harboring a secret, the cheering has stopped.

That secret, the decade-long cover-up of a faulty ignition switch, has come to light largely thanks to the efforts of a tenacious Georgia lawyer who represented the family of Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old woman who died when she suddenly lost control of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. In the pursuit of this case, proof was produced that GM knew all along about this defect but decided to hush it up. That discovery has led to a massive recall, a government probe, and hearings by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. There is even talk of criminal charges being filed against GM.

In recent weeks, 2.6 million GM cars were recalled—some for the faulty ignition switch and others for a defective electric power steering assist. The defective ignition switch causes a car to switch to “accessory mode” and shuts down the engine; the power steering assist causes problems with side airbag deployment and engine fires. Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion, and the Saturn Sky were recalled for the ignition switch; Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Chevrolet HHR, Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Aura, Saturn ION, and Pontiac G6, and Pontiacs were recalled for the power steering defect. All models ranged from 2004 through 2010.

As it turns out, engineers at General Motors have known about the faulty ignition switch since 2005. In fact, a GM engineer encountered the problem during a test drive. Instead of recalling cars, however, GM sent its dealers “technical service bulletins” with repair instructions. Technical service bulletins are meant for situations that do not involve serious safety hazards. General Motors, at the time, decided not to install replacement switches—which would have cost a mere 57 cents per vehicle. Since then, there have been over 30 accidents caused by the defective switch. One watchdog group, The Center for Auto Safety, claims that 303 have been killed in such accidents.

Government hearings began this week, focusing on the GM ignition switch defect and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) response to it. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who opened the second day of hearings, praised Lance Cooper for his service to the American public. Other senators and representatives have done the same. Early in the hearings, Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, acknowledged that she didn’t know why GM delayed in recalling the faulty switches. Meanwhile, David Friedman, an NHTSA administrator, nervously defended his agency’s investigative process.

Were You Injured as a Result of an Accident Caused By a Defective Automotive Component

Contact us today.  The experienced personal injury attorney at The Reiff Law Firm have been representing victims of accidents caused by auto defects for over 34 years.  We offer a free, no-obligation consultation at (215) 246-9000.

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