In Massachusetts, all manufacturers promise that products sold here are fit for their ordinary, intended purposes, which includes both those uses which the manufacturer intended and those uses and misuses which are reasonably foreseeable. If a product is more dangerous than necessary, the product is not fit for its intended purpose. This promise is independent of whether the manufacturer knows about a problem. The intended purpose of a vehicle, for example, is to drive safely between point A and point B.
If a product is not fit for its intended purposes and as a result someone suffers harm, that manufacturer is responsible for the harm.
Recently, there has been significant discussion regarding General Motors’ recall of approximately 1.6 million vehicles resulting from a faulty ignition switch.
On February 7, 2014, GM recalled 629,122 vehicles comprised of the following Make, Models and Model Years. (1)
• 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
• 2005-2006 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada Only)
• 2007 Pontiac G5
On February 25, 2014, they recalled another 748,024 vehicles(2)
• 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR
• 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice
• 2003-2007 Saturn Ion
• 2007 Saturn Sky
The danger occurs as follows: if the key ring is too heavy and/or based on certain road conditions or some other jarring event, the ignition switch may move out of the “run” position, turning off the engine. As a consequence, the air bags may not deploy when there is a crash, increasing the chances of injury. (3)
Such a danger, makes these products unnecessarily dangerous. This risk makes these products unnecessarily dangerous.
Based on defect reports GM filed with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that have made their way into the general public, GM apparently received early notices of problems and tests confirmed the dangers. Engineers recommended safer alternative designs that were at first approved, but then cancelled.
Per GM’s chronology of events submitted in the Defect Notice to the NHTSA that led to the recall it was noted that in 2004 “Around the time of the launch of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt at least one incident occurred in which the engine lost power because the key moved out of the “run” position. An investigation was opened and closed with no action after consideration of the lead-time required, cost and effectiveness of each of the potential solutions. (4)
GM’s records indicate that out of 34 crashes twelve people did die. (1),(4) A watchdog group, The Center for Auto Safety, claims there were 303 deaths based on fatality data from the NHTSA Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The response from GM regarding that the claim is that it was raw data that had not been analyzed or reviewed to determine whether this defect caused that number of fatalities.(5)
More information about the case will become known as multiple investigations and litigations proceed.
The following is an excerpt from the chronology supplied by GM in their Defect Notice(1)
2004: Around the time of the launch of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt at least one incident occurred in which the lost engine power because the key moved out of the “run” position. An investigation was opened and closed with no action after consideration of the lead-time required, cost and effectiveness of each of the potential solutions.
2005: New reports of Cobalts losing engine power were received and an engineer proposed GM redesign the key head from a “slotted” to a “hole” configuration. This was approved but later cancelled. A Service Bulletin was issued indicating the driver could inadvertently turn off the ignition due to low ignition key cylinder torque/effort. Customers were to be advised of the potential and remove unessential items from their key ring. An insert was devised, and 474 were provided to customers who brought cars in for service.
2006: Delphi Mechatronics proposed changes to the switch that were approved and it is believed implemented in the 2007 model year.
2007: NHTSA notified GM employees of a fatal crash that occurred in 2005. The employees were not aware of the crash and a case was opened. A GM engineer was assigned to track crashes and try to identify common characteristics.
2009: The top of the key was changed from a “slot” design to a “hole” design as was recommended, approved but later cancelled in 2005.
2010: GM discontinued the production of the Cobalt at the end of the 2010 model year, as previously planned.
2011 – 2013: More investigations took place.
2014 – Ignition switch recalls on February 10 and 25.
NHTSA General Counsel O. Kevin Vincent called on GM to answer why fixes GM engineers proposed in 2004 and 2005 weren’t made. They plan an investigation to determine if GM was noncompliant with the recall process. (6)
Other investigations to date include GM’s own internal investigation, the Justice Department, and two congressional committees. (7)
The House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would launch an investigation into the slow recall, and hold hearings. The committee will also examine whether GM knowingly allowed faulty and dangerous cars to remain on the road and whether the NHTSA has all the tools it needs to keep drivers safe. The Senate Commerce Committee said they would open their own probe of the automaker’s actions leading up to its recall.(6)
GM’s internal investigation will be lead by Anton “Tony” Valukas, chairman of the law firm Jenner & Block. He will work with GM’s general counsel to determine why GM waited nearly ten years to recall the vehicles for faulty ignition switches. Mr. Valukas is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and was lead examiner of the Lehman Brothers Holdings bankruptcy. The NHTSA is also conducting it’s own investigation to determine if GM was noncompliant in the recall process. (8)
Letters were sent to the owners the week of March 10, 2014. Owners may be able to get their ignition switch replaced as early as mid-April. Until that time GM’s website states:
Until the recall repairs have been performed, it is very important that you remove all items from your key ring, leaving only the vehicle key. The key fob (if applicable) should also be removed from your key ring.
GM dealers will replace the ignition switch, free of charge. Owners may contact Chevrolet at 1-800-222-1020 or Pontiac at 1-800-762-2737. GM’s number for this recall is 13454. (NHSTA Acknowledgement letter)
Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov. (NHSTA Acknowledgement letter)
(Unrelated airbag and brake recalls were initiated on March 17, 2014, resulting in another 1.5 million cars. It is believed there are no fatalities linked to these recalls. (9) )
Source PDF Documents from Safercar.gov
1Defect Notice (Part 573) – Amended
2Defect Notice(Part 573)-Amendment #2
3NHSTA Acknowledgement letter
4Defect and Noncompliance Notice (Part 573)-Amendment #3
Photo source: Safercar.gov slider as shown in March 2014
5Reuters on Center for Auto Safety claim of 303 deaths
6 Wall Street Journal reports on long delay in GM recall
7Wall Street Journal reports on investigations
8Wall Street Journal Blog on GM’s internal investigation
9Additional GM recalls unrelated to ignition switch
Learn more about the Ignition switch recall on GM’s website
Learn more about the law and defective products.