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Death Toll from GM Recall Likely to Grow Amid Lawsuits, Accident Reports

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Government safety officials indicate that the number of deaths associated with defective ignition switches in many Chevy, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles likely exceeds the 13 confirmed so far by General Motors (GM), suggesting that the automaker should update the death toll as additional fatalities are discovered from independent accident reports and wrongful death lawsuits filed by families nationwide.  

In February, GM recalled nearly 800,000 vehicles sold in the United States, due to problems with ignition switches that could turn the vehicle off if heavy key chains are used or if the ignition is jarred, such as may occur in an accident.

That recall has since been expanded several times, now impacting more than 2.5 million Chevy Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5, Pontiac Pursuit, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion and Saturn Sky vehicles from specific model years between 2005 and 2010.

GM has faced sharp criticism over the handling of the recall, after it was discovered that the automaker knew about the defect for years and failed to take any actions to correct the problem or warn consumers.

Last week, GM acknowledged that they now believe at least 47 crashes can be directly linked to the ignition switch problems, but the automaker continues to maintain that only 13 deaths appear to be linked to the problem.

On Friday, the acting director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) David Friedman weighed in, indicating that the agency believes that the GM recall death toll will rise as the investigation continues.

Friedman is not the first to make that prediction. Shortly after GM issued the recall, the Center for Automotive Safety issued a report identifying over 300 deaths that have been reported involving individuals riding in vehicles that had the defective ignition switch.

Earlier this month, the NHTSA fined GM a record $35 million over their handling of the recall. The automaker also agreed to submit to extensive government oversight as part of a consent agreement designed to change the culture of the company, which Friedman said was “deeply disturbing” in its decision to place profits over customer safety.

A growing number of GM recall lawsuits continue to be filed in state and federal courts throughout the United States, including personal injury claims, wrongful death claims, investor lawsuits and other class actions over the diminished value of the vehicles. All of the complaints involve similar allegations that GM failed promptly act to correct the ignition problems, and actively tried to conceal the issue by blaming incidents on driver error.

While GM has indicate it will compensate families of those killed in auto accidents where the defect may have been a factor, the company has decided to battle against those seeking economic damages. The company claims that its 2009 bankruptcy precludes any economic lawsuits involving company actions before the reorganization.

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