By Nick Bunkley, Crain News Service
DETROIT (March 26, 2014) — General Motors Co.'s investigation of faulty ignitions turned up more than 250 crashes in which airbags failed to deploy on cars that have not been recalled, according to a lawsuit filed against the auto maker this week.
The lawsuit was filed jointly by 12 law firms, including one that previously reached a settlement with GM in the case of a Georgia woman who died in a 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt crash. The lawyer in that case, Lance Cooper, forced GM to turn over hundreds of documents and deposed about a dozen GM engineers. Some of the information Mr. Cooper gathered appears publicly for the first time in the new lawsuit.
The suit says that, despite a design change to the Cobalt's ignition switch during the 2007 model year, GM continued receiving reports of airbags failing in Cobalts from the 2008 through 2010 model years. The recall issued in February covers 1.6 million cars worldwide, including 2005-07 Cobalts and 2003-07 Saturn Ions.
The suit, filed in San Francisco federal court, said GM in 2005 rejected changes that engineers considered to be a “sure solution” to complaints of cars stalling, due partly to the cost involved. The solution comprised a longer detent plunger in the ignition switch, a change that ultimately was made in 2006, and mounting the ignition cylinder higher on the steering column to prevent a driver's knee from bumping it inadvertently.
“GM's engineers understood that increasing the detent in the ignition switch alone was not a solution to the problem,” the lawsuit said, “but GM concealed—and continues to conceal from the public…the nature and extent of the defects, which the current recall will not cure.”
The suit has 13 named plaintiffs, four of whom are listed as owning Cobalts from model years that have not been recalled. It says six of the plaintiffs bought their cars after GM's 2009 bankruptcy.
A GM spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, as well as on other cases that have been brought in recent days.
“GM's first focus is on ensuring the safety and peace of mind of our customers involved in the recall and fixing their vehicles,” the company wrote in an emailed statement. “We are recalling all of the vehicles that were manufactured with the specific ignition switch involved in this condition.”