Settlement in Two Bellwether Cases Involving Defective GM Ignition Switches

General Motors has been under serious scrutiny for a number of defects that have resulted in millions of its vehicles being recalled.

One of the recalls involved an ignition switch defect in a number of GM’s small cars. The switch can unexpectedly move from the run position causing the engine to suddenly switch off when the car is in motion, Top Class Actions reports.

In September 2015, GM agreed to a $900 million criminal settlement, ending the federal government’s investigation into faulty ignition switches in the Chevy Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other small GM cars. The settlement resolved more half of the death and personal injury lawsuits in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) against GM.

In 2014, the automaker recalled about 1.6 million vehicles because of the ignition switch defect. In cars with the defective switch, if the switch is bumped or jostled, it can move from the “run” position to the “off” position, shutting off the engine and disabling the air bags and electronic systems such as power steering. The defective ignition switch was allegedly linked to 120 deaths and numerous injuries.

The ignition switch defect affects vehicles including: 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-2010 Saturn Sky vehicles. The recall was eventually expanded to cover 1.96 million vehicles in the United States, and 2.36 million worldwide.

Because many of the recalled cars were older models (from the mid-2000s) and were no longer owned by the original buyers, it has been a challenge to locate the current owner. The sheer size of the recall made it difficult for dealers to get a sufficient replacement parts and schedule all the necessary repairs.

GM determined that weight on the key chain or jostling the key could move the key to the off position. This would suddenly shut off the engine while the car is in motion driving, shutting down airbags and other safety features. The sudden engine shutdown could result in

  • the driver losing the ability to steer their car while driving
  • airbags not deploying during a frontal collision
  • power brakes suddenly ceasing to work while driving

Internal investigations indicate that although GM had known about the ignition switch defect since 2001, the company had not taken proper steps to resolve the problem until many years later. GM was accused of ignoring warnings and evidence about the faulty ignition switch for more than a decade. Before the company finally undertook the recall, GM had issued an advisory through dealers recommending that owners remove everything but the car key from their key chain to reduce the chance that the weight of the key chain would cause an unexpected engine shutdown.

On September 5, 2016, GM announced that it had settled two ignition switch cases, one of which was set to go to trial on September 12. Both of the lawsuits alleged injuries in accidents linked to the faulty ignition switches, USA Today reports. The settled cases were brought by people who either rejected or chose not to pursue settlements through the compensation fund set up under the 2015 settlement.


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