General Motors is facing two separate lawsuits related to failures of the ignition switch recalled last month, while also preparing to bring their case before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee next month, led by a representative who honed his skills upon Firestone.
Meanwhile, reports of a quiet swap between the defective ignition switch and an improved switch in 2006 – a swap that may have violated internal protocols -may have serious repercussions for GM and now-bankrupt supplier Delphi.
Finally, a test drive gone wrong results in a GMC Yukon left to burn, whose prompt investigation is only the beginning of a long learning process in how GM handles safety in the future.
Reuters and Just-Auto report two lawsuits were filed against GM over the weekend in Minnesota and California. The former, filed in state court on behalf of three teenage girls severely injured or killed in a 2006 crash involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, is considered to be the first wrongful death lawsuit since the recall was issued. Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales is seeking $50,000 for each of the families affected, and names “New GM” as defendant.
The second, filed in federal court as a national class action by Michaels Law Group, cites fraudulent behavior on GM’s part over the ignition switch and subsequent recall. Founding firm member Johnathan Michaels called the automaker’s actions “an unfortunate chapter” in United States history, and proclaimed GM “allowed products to be put in the stream of commerce, knowing that people would die.”
Reuters also reports U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, penned a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice to demand GM establish a fund “to fully compensate consumers who suffered injury, death or damage” as a result of the ignition switch. He also suggested said fund could be applied while the DOJ conducts their investigation into the recall, one of many being conducted by various federal parties, including the Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Bloomberg says Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, one of 32 House Republicans to back the 2008 bailouts and former co-chair of the Congressional Automotive Congress, will be take part in hearings on April 1 when the committee meets with GM CEO Mary Barra and other executives in a hearing to discuss what happened with the recall. Fourteen years earlier, Upton took on Ford and Firestone over the Explorer’s defective tires, resulting in the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act of 2000 now affecting both General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Regarding the NHTSA, the Detroit Free Press reports Senator Dean Heller of Nevada sent a letter to agency acting head David Friedman asking for answers by the end of the month as to why the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation “declined to forward in both 2007 and 2010 on any vehicle recall recommendation” despite receiving direct access to necessary information from GM. Heller also wants to know what if any threshold complaints need to cross before further investigation is taken.
Back home, GM’s knowledge of the defective component — and its subsequent silence — may also claim Delphi under the wave of red flags the automaker ignored at its peril. Automotive News says the litigation protection established for the supplier during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy process could fall if Delphi was found to have committed fraud by not disclosing their part in the ignition defect during proceedings.
Within the Renaissance Center, USA Today says GM learned in 2007 of a 2005 fatality when a Maryland teen, Amber Marie Rose, lost control of her Cobalt and crashed into a tree while intoxicated. The report noted the airbags had not gone off as intended, with the cause linked to the switch set to “accessory” instead of “on.”
Meanwhile, Automotive News reports the in-house-designed switch — the result of the automaker wanting to do more on its own amid rising warranty costs in the mid-1990s — didn’t meet the specs required of it until its redesign in 2006, nine years after engineers were asked to design the part. However, the improved part retained its old part number when former GM engineers claim it shouldn’t have, while GM remained quiet on the matter until 2013 when a wrongful death lawsuit from Georgia started the ball rolling on the issue.
In the wake of the ongoing maelstrom, GM appointed long-serving engineer Jeff Boyer to the newly created position of vice president of global safety. Boyer will report to Barra on all safety concerns and recall decisions. Automotive News says this is just the first in a series of moves the automaker is taking to show how it has changed since emerging from bankruptcy and government ownership over the past few years, but has a long road ahead in making substantial progress regarding its long-standing bureaucratic culture.
Finally, The Los Angeles Times reports a 2015 GMC Yukon taken for a test drive in Anaheim this weekend suffered from what Anaheim Police Department Lieutenant Tim Schmidt says was “some oil leak or some fluid leaking” during the drive, leading to a catastrophic fire once the driver pulled over upon losing control of the vehicle. Autoblog adds GM will be investigating the matter “very soon,” as per the words of spokesman Alan Adler. No one was hurt in the incident.