The Chevy Cobalt 2005-2010, the Pontiac G5 2007-2010, the Chevy HHR 2006-2011, the Pontiac Solstice 2006-2010, the Saturn Ion 2003-2007, and the Saturn Sky 2007-2010. What do all of these vehicles have in common? They have all been recalled by General Motors (GM) due to an ignition switch defect that is alleged to have resulted in crashes that claimed over 300 lives and left many more injured.
The malfunction is caused by a defective vehicle ignition switch, which is 1.6 millimeters less “springy” than it should have been, producing less tension. This weaker tension caused the vehicle to turn to the “off” or accessory position when something as simple as having more than one key on the vehicle key’s keychain occurred. Other events, such as road conditions being bumpier than usual or other so-called “jarring” actions that shake the switch just the right way, could also cause the malfunction. When the vehicle switches to the “off” or accessory position, the electrical system fails, which can disable the power braking and steering and prevent airbags and seat belts from deploying or working in response to an accident.
As stated above, GM knew about this defect before these vehicles were allowed into consumer circulation. In fact, GM employees first learned about the faulty ignition in 2001, when they detected an ignition switch defect during pre-production testing of the Saturn Ion. Engineers recognized the defect again in 2004 before launching the Chevy Cobalt. Then, they learned that the Cobalt can be “keyed off” with the knee while driving. The engineering manager of the Cobalt, however, closed an investigation into the ignition switch problems, claiming that proposed solutions would take too long and cost too much. The Cobalt was subsequently launched with the defective switch. Reports later indicated that the fix would cost less than a dollar per car.
In 2005, engineers proposed a solution: simply change the key from a slot to a round hole to ease the stress on the switch. GM adopted this proposal, but later canceled its approval. The company instead notified its dealers via a service bulletin that the defect can occur when “the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain … the customer should be advised of this potential and should … unessential items from their key chain.”
In July 2005, Amber Marie Rose, 16, died in a frontal crash in her 2005 Cobalt due to an ignition switch defect. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contractor determined that the Cobalt’s ignition had moved out of the “run” position and into the “accessory” position, which cut off power to the power steering the air bags.
In April 2006, GM authorized the manufacturer of the switch to change the defective part. However, the manufacturer started supplying the new part to GM during the 2007 model year, so only 2008 model GM vehicles were fixed. GM took no remedial action to fix the cars already on the road with the defective part. In 2012-2013, GM finally determined that the original switches – those made before the 2006 design modifications – failed to meet GM’s minimum specifications, and that significant differences existed between new switches and the prior, faulty ones. By the end of February 2014, GM had recalled 2.6 million vehicles containing the defective part.
All automakers have a duty to the public to produce safe vehicles and to promptly take remedial action to repair safety defects on their vehicles. Personal injury claims based on manufacturer liability, as well as wrongful death claims (filed by surviving family members of the deceased) may be filed as a result of injuries or deaths sustained from defective vehicles.
If you or a family member has suffered a personal injury or death from a car crash tied to a defective GM ignition key or switch, contact the product liability lawyers at Brooks Law Group to speak with us regarding your potential claim. Any initial consultations are free. You may contact us via e-mail or by calling 1-888-WE-MEAN-IT (888-936-3264). Please provide us with as much information as possible so that we may provide you a thorough, quality evaluation. For more information, view our GM Ignition Switch Recall practice area page.