Thousands of Accident Reports Filed Involving Recalled GM Cars: Report
An automotive consumer watchdog group says the investigation into General Motors (GM) ignition switch recalls needs to be broader in scope and that the company needs to be prepared to compensate a large number of drivers and passengers injured in vehicles the company should have recalled years ago.
In a letter to one of the advisers on GM’s investigation (PDF), the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) indicates that it has identified 2,004 death and injury reports filed by GM with federal regulators in connection to the recalled vehicles.
While the list includes injuries and deaths that occurred from a wide range of causes, not just air bag deployment problems, CAS notes that ignitions that turn off while the car is in motion can cause far more problems than just preventing the air bag from deploying.
The letter, addressed to attorney Kenneth Feinberg, is the latest in the ongoing controversy over GM’s ignition switch recall, which has affected more than 2.5 million vehicles worldwide since it was first announced in February. GM has admitted to knowing that a jarring impact or heavy key rings could shut off the ignition in a number of its vehicles for years but failed to recall them until February.
GM has faced fines, investigations and public condemnation over the cover-up and now faces a growing number of ignition switch recall lawsuits as well. The NHTSA fined GM a record $35 million last month. However, the CAS letter suggests that all this has just scratched the surface of the problem.
Currently, GM has acknowledged that it is aware of only 13 deaths and 47 accidents linked to the ignition switch problem. However, both CAS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have indicated that they expect the automaker will have to acknowledge that many more deaths and injuries occurred as more information is revealed. CAS has previously indicated that they have found more than 300 reports involving deaths that occurred in the recalled vehicles.
The CAS letter points out that there is no code for ignition switch problems in the NHTSA early warning reporting (EWR) system, meaning that GM could have filed ignition switch-related deaths and injuries under a variety of codes.
“As a first step to identifying ignition switch victims, every GM recalled vehicle EWR report must be searched for deaths and injuries due to the ignition switch defect,” CAS wrote. “A second step to identifying ignition switch victims, the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) must be searched for deaths in all crashes with the recalled vehicles, not just the ones where the airbag failed to deploy. If the vehicle stalls on the road, it could be hit from behind causing a death that has nothing to do with airbag deployment.”
A growing number of GM recall lawsuits are being 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.
GM has pledged to compensate victims of airbag deployment failures linked to the recalled vehicles, but plans to defend against economic claims brought before the company declared bankruptcy in 2009, claiming that the bankruptcy shields it from claims before that date. But the letter claims that the scope of what GM should be prepared to do should go far beyond that.
The CAS points out that GM has recalled nearly 14 million vehicles this year in 29 recalls. Out of those, 11 of the recalls included cars that were sold before the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. There are also four pending investigations that could result in more recalls, including one that could affect 1.8 million pick-ups and SUVs.
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