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The family of a New York man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against General Motors, claiming that an accident involving a Chevy Cobalt was caused by a defective ignition switch that has resulted in the recall of several million vehicles this year.
The complaint (PDF) was filed this week by Melinda Homer, in the Supreme Court of New York for Monroe County.
Homer’s son, Daniel Hollaert, Jr. died last December, when the 23 year old’s 2006 Chevy Cobalt slammed into a school bus. According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, Hollaert lost control of the vehicle because the ignition switch moved from the “run” position. Photos taken by the police appear to show the ignition switch in the “off” position, according to the complaint.
Hollaert was not wearing a seat belt at the time, according to police, and suffered severe head trauma and died. Four children were also injured in the accident.
Two months later, GM issued a recall for Chevy Cobalts and other vehicles due to ignition switch problems, which the automaker indicated could cause the vehicle to suddenly shut off if heavy key chains are used or if the ignition is jolted, such as may occur in an accident. The defect may cause the vehicle to suddenly stall, resulting in failure of the airbags to deploy in an accident.
Subsequent investigations have revealed that GM knew about the ignition defects since at least 2002, but failed to act to protect public safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fined GM $35 million for its actions.
GM hired investigators to conduct an independent review, which confirmed that the company had failed to protect public safety, and said the problems were the result of a “pattern of incompetence” that permeated the company.
“Indeed, rather than disclosing this serious safety problem that uniformly affected all Cobalts, GM, instead, concealed and obscured the problems, electing to wait until customers brought their cars to a dealership after an engine-stalling incident, and offered even its own dealers only an incomplete, incorrect, and insufficient description of the defects and the manner in which to actually remedy them,” the lawsuit claims. GM officials have said the failure to recall the vehicles was a mistake, but not an intentional cover-up.
The wrongful death case brought by Homer joins a growing number of General Motors recall lawsuits being filed over injuries suffered in accidents involving recalled Chevy, Pontiac, Saturn and other vehicles that may have the faulty ignition switches.
A General Motors settlement fund is being created by the automaker, which has indicated that it may provide compensation for wrongful death victims at a rate of about $1 million per claim and $300,000 for spouses and dependents.
Initial estimates from GM suggested that at least 13 deaths may have been caused by the defective ignition switches, but the NHTSA and consumer advocacy groups have suggested that the number is likely to much higher as the auto maker learns of additional incidents through wrongful death lawsuits brought in the coming weeks and months.