GM Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Defective Airbags and Seatbelt Pretensioners

According to allegations raised in yet another class action lawsuit filed against General Motors, a “catastrophic system failure” in certain vehicles may result in a failure of airbags to deploy or seatbelts to properly tighten during a car crash.

The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on August 17, presenting claims for William Endress, Lee ford, Gary Clark and Ira Bondsteel, as well as seeking seeks class action status to pursue damages for other vehicle owners.

General Motors and Aptiv Services US, LLC are named as defendants, facing claims that defective trucks and SUVs were sold in the United States, which contain a defective Sensing and Diagnostic Module (SDM) system. The component is a computer which controls the airbag and seatbelt system, using data input from sensors and an algorithm to determine when to deploy the airbags and tighten the seatbelt to protect vehicle occupants in the event of a crash.

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The lawsuit claims the SDM contains a software defect which actually prevents the safety systems from engaging under specific circumstances. Most commonly, this occurs after the vehicle has suffered an impact already, usually deemed too weak to deploy the airbags. At that point, the system allegedly prevents the deployment of the safety features until a specific amount of time has passed, to prevent misfiring. However, according to the plaintiffs, that prevents the systems from working if a second, more serious, auto accident occurs shortly after the first. This so-called “dead zone” can result in serious and potentially lethal injuries to occupants, the lawsuit claims.

“The consequences of the SDM System Defect manifest during specific accidents triggering this dead zone, such as those involving multiple impacts and/or accidents that increase in severity over time, causing the airbags and seatbelts in the Class Vehicles to fail to deploy,” the lawsuit states. “The Defect deprives consumers of life-saving protection.”

The lawsuit claims engineers from Delphi specifically warned GM not to use the SDM software delay as early as 1999, due to the potential risk to vehicle occupants, saying it was a reckless and dangerous decision.

“Despite this acquired knowledge, General Motors continued to use Delphi SDMs in its vehicles and, on information and belief, continued to use the defective calibration associated with those Delphi SDMs as well,” according to the lawsuit. “General Motors has continued to acquire knowledge of the Defect through individual lawsuits, consumer complaints, and its own investigations into serious crashes where the airbags and seatbelts failed to deploy in the Class Vehicles.”

This lawsuit was filed on the same day another class action lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Michigan, which seeks class action status for hundreds of thousands of owners of General Motors model year 2016 through 2019 Chevrolet Malibu, 2016-2019 Chevrolet Volt, 2018 through 2019 Chevrolet Travers, and 2019 Chevrolet Blazer vehicles.

According to that lawsuit, all of the implicated vehicles have a defect which may prevent drivers from turning the vehicles off, giving them a warning that they need to move the shifter into the PARK position, even when they have already done so. When this happens, a “Shift to Park” warning appears on the instrument panel.

Affected owners say they must then wiggle the gear shifter, or shift through different gears and back to PARK, before the vehicle acknowledges it is in PARK. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it does not, according to the lawsuit.

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