An Abuse of Power — GM Recalls Nearly 7 Million Vehicles

by Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley
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Companies that produce products such as power tools, planes, motor vehicles and guns should be held to a higher standard of public responsibility than maybe, say blender manufacturers. A bad blender might ruin a good party, but it is unlikely to kill. Maim or injure people.

One would have thought that when Ford allowed Pintos to explode all over the world and to avoid lawsuits or pay people off for amounts their number crunchers had valued a human life, that would have been a life-long lesson to the car industry.

If a driver is traveling along the road at 80 mph, losing power from an ignition switch turning the engine off is catastrophic and is particularly so in today’s automobiles. Losing power can mean:

  • Lost or reduced steering
  • Lost or reduced braking
  • Inability to control the transmission gears
  • Loss of traction and brake safety controls
  • Lost or malfunctioning airbag deployment

What is perhaps worse is this car maker, GM, has known about the recall problems for a decade or more and sat quietly by saying nothing to the public. The same public, by the way, that hauled GM out of certain financial collapse through public money. Yet, they stand with their hands in their pockets while people are killed and injured because of product defects in their cars that could be easily repaired.

New vehicle recalls from GM include:

  • Chevrolet Malibu: All model-year 2004 and 2005, and some model-year 2006 and model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles
  • Chevrolet Malibu Maxx: All model year 2004 and 2005, and some 2006 model year
  • Chevrolet HHR (Non-Turbo): Some model year 2009 and 2010 vehicles
  • Chevrolet Cobalt: Some model year 2010 vehicles
  • Saturn Aura: Some model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles
  • Saturn Ion: All model year 2004 to 2007 vehicles
  • Pontiac G6: All model year 2005, and some model year 2006 and model year 2008 and 2009 vehicles

In many respects, we can thank filing a lawsuit to have brought GM out from under its rock into the bright light of the truth. It was Brooke Melton’s family who sued GM for a fatal accident when the ignition in her Chevrolet Cobalt suddenly shut off during operation. The family hired a couple of experts who were unsuccessful in determining what happened. They then hired an engineer, Mark Hood, who also could not determine the cause at first.

All this time, GM was defending the lawsuit and not helping Brooke Melton’s family in any way.

It was not until Mr. Hood bought a $30 replacement ignition for the Cobalt and noticed a significantly changed design in the switch he figured out the problem. The design of the switch in Brooke Melton’s car and in so far an unknown number of cars, allowed the ignition switch to be knocked to the off position easily and without the driver realizing what had happened until it was too late.

GM has defended the Melton case and has even claimed that the parts manufacturer quietly and surreptitiously changed the switch design without GM knowing it. Documents as far back as 2006 dispute that claim.

When would GM have come clean about the ignition problems? When 20 people were dead; when 30 people were dead; or never if an engineer named Mark Hood had not come across the problem when he was hired by a plaintiff in a lawsuit?

Gun manufacturers are fond of claiming that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. Apparently defective products, such as the Cobalt, don’t kill either – unless you can weed through the discovery in a lawsuit.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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