MONTGOMERY, ALA. (April 17, 2014) – Automaker General Motors (GM) is attempting to shift attention from its lack of concern for consumer safety by announcing the creation of a “global safety organization” within the company, which it says will “focus on safety across all its vehicle lines.” For a company that has shown little real concern for safety, this is hopefully a good thing. Meanwhile, GM has asked a bankruptcy judge in New York to shield the automaker from liability for the injuries and deaths resulting from crashes related to its faulty ignition switch. This, despite evidence GM knew as early as 2001 that a serious defect with its ignition switch could cause millions of vehicles on the road to lose power, including airbag protection for drivers and passengers.
“GM, a company that has taken taxpayer dollars and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people because of its lack of concern for safety, is now trying to hide behind the shield of bankruptcy,” said Beasley Allen Founding Shareholder Jere Beasley. “If that ploy is successful, the American people will again be victims. For GM to use its 2009 bankruptcy in this manner is unacceptable and is just plain wrong. I don’t believe the American people will tolerate this sort of treatment.”
Beasley sent a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra this week, asking that the company not use any bankruptcy defense it may have on the pre-bankruptcy claims. If GM refuses to waive these defenses, he requested that GM set up a court-supervised monetary fund to compensate its victims. So far there has been no response from GM.
GM went through bankruptcy reorganization five years ago, paid for by a huge “bailout” by U.S. taxpayers. Now, the company says “New GM” is not liable for defects in “Old GM” products. It is seeking to avoid liability for both personal injury and wrongful death claims that occurred between 2001 and 2009, as well as economic losses from automobile owners.
Beasley Allen has filed lawsuits related to the ignition switch defect that allows the key to unintentionally slip from the “run” to “off” or “accessory” position while the vehicle is being operated. The ignition defect causes the sudden loss of engine power, braking and steering, creating a hazardous emergency situation. The airbag system is also disabled and rendered useless. Beasley Allen, along with a team of lawyers, also has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of car owners who will face economic losses as a result of the defective automobiles.
GM recalled about 780,000 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles on Feb. 13. Twelve days later, it expanded the recall to include an additional 590,000 model-year 2003-07 Saturn Ion, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky vehicles. The total number of recalled vehicles now numbers about 2.5 million related to the defect. Court documents and other evidence reveal that GM knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. However, GM rejected several design changes and solutions that were recommended by its own engineers on numerous occasions because of the cost and the time it would take to make the changes. The company says it has linked 31 crashes and 13 deaths to the faulty ignition switch, but a new study commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety indicates the death toll could exceed 300.