Today the chief executive of General Motors was grilled by U.S. senators demanding to know why her company took more than a decade to fix a simple spring that has caused any where from 13 deaths (according to GM) to 303 deaths (according to outside sources).
Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.,accused GM of a massive cover-up. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., said GM should be prosecuted in a criminal court.
It is obvious that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not doing its job. It didn't uncover the defect, even though it began investigating the problem in 2005 after a woman was killed driving a Cobalt in Maryland and others died when their engine suddenly turned off.
No, the defect was discovered by an injury attorney and engineer representing the family of one of the victims. Brooke Melton's engine suddenly cut out in 2010 as she was driving her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt in Georgia and she died in the ensuing collision. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and its attorney hired Mark Hood, an engineer, to investigate. He bought a $30.00 replacement ignition for the Cobalt and found that a defective ignition switch had caused the engine to fail. GM continued to fight the Melton family until quietly settling the case out of court for a confidential amount.
The New York Times concluded in this article that our consumer safety watchdog was ineffective and that Congress deliberately kept it toothless by only allotting $10 million a year to investigate defects. This is less money than what the GM CEO who just testified earns.
Faulty Ignition Switches
The problem is that these GM vehicles have faulty ignition switches that accidentally turned off the engine when the key was jarred by the driver's knee or even a bump or it was pulled down by a heavy key ring.The air bags then shut off, leaving the driver vulnerable in the inevitable crash.
How much would it have cost to add a stronger spring that would have prevented this from happening? 57 cents.
GM knew that its vehicles were defective as early as 2002 and in 2006 approved a new part that would have fixed the problem. However rather than report the parts change, which would have alerted safety regulators that there was a problem, GM chose to use the same parts number, then decided that the cost of fixing its problem was too great.
Other Lawsuits filed
Various lawsuits -- the only apparent way to gets the corporation's attention and make our vehicles safer -- were filed against GM by the families of
-- Benjamin Hair, a 20-year-old pharmacy student, who was killed in a crash in 2009 driving his Pontiac G5 after his car shut down suddenly;
-- Kelley Rayback, a 21-year-old nursing student, who died in a crash in a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. Her heavy key ring with student passes was blamed.
-- Hasaya Chansuthus, 25, who died in the same way
Kelley's mother said. "If people had known about the recall, known about the problems, they wouldn't have let their kids drive them."
These Years Vehicles Are Affected
Chevrolet Malibu: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009
Chevrolet Malibu Maxx: 2004 2005, and some 2006
Chevrolet HHR: 2009 and 2010
Chevrolet Cobalt: 2010
Saturn Aura: 2008 and 2009
Saturn Ion: 2004 to 2007
Pontiac G6: 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009
NHTSA is the same "watchdog" group that totally missed the Toyota sudden acceleration problem that began in 2011. It was just announced this week that Toyota will voluntarily pay $1.2 billion -- the largest criminal fine ever imposed on a car maker. It has already recalled more than 10 million of its vehicles. Toyota originally tried to blame drivers, even after it had already issued recalls for poorly designed floor mats and gas pedals which the company knew caused acceleration problems.
The NHTSA gets more than 45,000 consumer complaints each year that vehicles are unsafe. Few are investigated.
How did these unsafe cars get built? Why weren't they recalled when people complain? Why doesn't the NHTSA force our auto makers to recall defective autos when drivers start dying? There has been a law on the books since 2000 since Firestone's defective tires on Ford Explorers were responsible for killing at least 250 people and seriously injurying at least 3,000 people.
Legal Rights of Those Who Have Been Injured by Defective Cars
Automakers like General Motors have a legal duty to produce cars that are safe. They must immediately fix any known safety defects. Obviously they often don't.
If you believe that a defecive vehicle has caused you to have a collision, you should consider asking an experienced personal injury attorney what to do. In your first meeting with the lawyer, you will want to bring in all documents, including the purchase transactions, repair records, and information about the crash such as the police report and medical bills and records.
Damages in personal injury lawsuits against auto manufacturers include
* Physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and physical impairment;
* Medical expenses;
* Loss of earnings and earning capacity; and
* Punitive damages in some cases if outrageous conduct can be proved