Once a vehicle manufacturer learns of a defect, it must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, most of the time it’s manufacturers who initiate recalls.  However that wasn’t the case for General Motors (GM), which had knowledge of safety-related issues yet failed to issue a recall for affected vehicles until just recently.

What Did GM Know About Its Defective Vehicles?

Since the beginning of 2014, General Motors has issued three major recalls. One involves defective airbags in certain SUVs. The largest surrounds defective ignition switches in certain passenger cars. And the most recent GM vehicle recall involves the ignition lock cylinder, which may allow keys to come out of the ignition even when the engine is running.

But the faulty ignition switch is something the company knew about years before issuing a recall in February 2014. Released documents reveal that GM knew the ignition switch - linked to at least 13 deaths according to media reports - was faulty. A message dated October 2012 from the company’s Switch Lead Engineer notes the approximate cost for fixing it would be $10 per switch for about 1.5 million units.

Yet the company waited until February 2014 to issue a recall and provide a remedy to owners. GM’s CEO Mary Barra claims she wasn’t aware of the defect until she took her new job in January 2014. An email addressed to her in 2011 mentions steering issues in Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts. But documents don’t show if there is a connection between those problems and the faulty ignition switches, reports CBS News.

The company would have spent about $15 million several years ago to fix the ignition switches. But that’s nothing compared to what they are now facing. Money might have played a role as far back as 2001 as well, reports NBC News. There is evidence that shows the company could have gone with a different and more expensive ignition switch design that safety advocates say might have avoided the current problems.

NBC News also reports that production in late 2006 included the previously rejected design, suggesting the fix occurred in secret. It fits with the vehicles involved in the faulty ignition switch recall: model years 2003 to 2007. This includes Pontiac G5s, Pursuits and Solstices, Saturn Ions and Skys, and Chevy Cobalts and HHRs.

Changes to the ignition switch took place before at least eight of the 13 deaths linked to the defect, according to the NBC News report. And of course, seven years before the recall. GM has also acknowledged 32 crashes related to the problem.

What Options Do GM Vehicle Owners Have?

If an owner’s vehicle is one named in the recall, a fix is available free of charge. If there is evidence that a defect in a GM vehicle – or any other vehicle – caused your Des Moines accident and any resultant injuries or death, the next step is to seek legal counsel about holding the manufacturer liable

An investigation can help determine what caused the crash and if it’s connected to the faulty ignition switch or other defects in these or other vehicles. If so, it’s possible to pursue legal action against the auto manufacturer to recover compensation for damages. For help with your case, contact an attorney today at Walker, Billingsley & Bair. Call (888) 435-9886 or contact us online.

UPDATE (5/21/2014):

GM continues to release recall notices for vehicles dating back as far as 2004 model years. In mid-May 2014, two more recalls were issued, affecting a combined 5.2 million more vehicles. To date, GM has recalled more than 18 million vehicles for 27 separate issues.

The May 14, 2014 recall affected the following vehicles:

  • 2004-2012 Chevrolet Malibus, 2004-2007 Malibu Maxxs, 2005-2010 Pontiac G6s, and 2007-2010 Saturn Auras with defective brake lamps.
  • 2014 Chevrolet Malibus with defective brake boost.
  • 2005-2007 Corvettes with defective headlight low beams.
  • 2014 Cadillac CTSs with defective windshield wipers.
  • 2014 Chevrolet Silverados and 2015 Chevrolet Tahoes with defective steering tie-rods.

The May 20, 2014 recall affected the following vehicles:

  • 2009-2014 Buick Enclaves, Chevrolet Traverses, and GMC Arcadia full-size crossover SUVs and 2009-2010 Saturn Outlooks with defective front safety lap belt cables that can wear out easily with passenger movement.
  • 2015 Cadillac Escalades and Escalade ESVs with defective passenger-side front air bags improperly attached to the dashboard and could inflate improperly in a crash.
  • 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HDs and GMC Sierra full-size pickups for fire hazards caused by loose electrical connections in the engine compartment.

The May 20 recall announcement also indicated that 2004-2008 Chevrolet Malibus and Maxxs, 2007-2008 Saturn Auras, and 2005-2008 Pontiac G6s were now included in the April 29, 2014 recall for defective transmission shift indicator cables, adding another one million vehicles to that recall group.

Corey Walker
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With over 28 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.