A federal class action alleges that General Motors Corp. fraudulently concealed a defect in the ignition switches of 2.6 million Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles, and that the defect is linked to at least 13 deaths.
The complaint, Ruff v. General Motors, was filed Monday in Trenton, New Jersey, and it claims company engineers first learned in 2001 that ignition switches in these vehicles can accidentally move from the “run” to the “accessory” or “off” position, shutting off the engine and disabling such systems as power steering, antilock brakes, and air bags, the New Jersey Law Journal (Law.com) reports. Plaintiffs claim the number of deaths may be far higher than the 13 GM has acknowledged. They cite 303, from a study of airbag deployment failures in crashes of Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion cars.
GM first acknowledged the switch problem in 2005, in a service bulletin to dealers, but the lawsuit alleges the company withheld this information when questioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The recall of the affected cars wasn’t initiated until February of this year.
Lisa Ruff of Hazlet, New Jersey, the named plaintiff, says her 2007 Cobalt was totaled in an accident when the engine stopped and her daughter, who was driving, lost control and struck a tree. Plaintiff Sheri Marx of East Brunswick, New Jersey, cites a number of mechanical problems with her 2006 Cobalt—though not engine shutdown—and she said she is concerned about the risk of driving the car, according to Law.com. The plaintiffs seek damages for expenses incurred in correcting the vehicles’ defects, including lost wages, rental car costs, and child care.
Federal suits have been filed, in California, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. On May 29, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will consider an application to consolidate the Los Angeles cases as General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, Law.com reports. Consolidating cases into an MDL allows courts to more efficiently process large and complex litigations where cases in different federal courts share common issues. Cases are transferred to one court, under one judge, for pretrial proceedings.