Deadliest Auto Defect in American History
General Motors is a contender for causing one of the deadliest vehicle defects in history. The number of deaths tied to the ignition switch defect has just reached 100 and is likely to climb much higher. The reality far exceeds G.M.’s strong assertions last year that only 13 people were killed in wrecks involving its ignition switch.
Cover Up, Then Denial
In 2012, the family of a G.M. crash victim hired Mark Hood to investigate the cause of the fatal accident. What the engineer discovered turned the automotive world upside down and opened the door to justice for thousands of victims and their families. During the course of his investigation, he compared the victim’s ignition switch to one he purchased from a local dealership for $30 and slowly unraveled the truth. He not only discovered the problem with the ignition switch, but that the company had taken deliberate steps to cover up the problem.
Evidence indicates that G.M. knew about the defect since at least 2006 or 2007. And yet, the car manufacturer allowed people to drive around in these dangerous vehicles for a decade.
Even after the company was caught, their reaction was slow in getting defective cars off the streets. Only upon pressure from Congress did G.M. step up recall efforts. At that time, lawmakers were incensed that 13 people had been killed, having no idea that these deaths represented just a drop in the bucket. G.M. lawyers and executives continued to deny the defect caused more deaths.
4,300 Death and Injury Claims Filed Against G.M.
In April of last year, G.M. hired Kenneth R Feinberg, an expert in victim compensation programs, to advise the company on its settlement program. Victims and families have filed 4,300 claims for deaths and injuries. The program approved its 100th death claim on Monday and has approved 184 injury claims for compensation. More claims are currently being considered.
However, we will probably never know how many people actually died and were injured because of the defect. The decade-long cover-up means vital evidence was lost and accidents not fully investigated. The hidden nature of the defect makes calculating the true death toll complicated.
In contrast, Ford Explorers equipped with defective Firestone tires resulted in 270 fatalities in the 1990s and 2000s. Even when revisiting an accident, the problem and consequences were obvious. The tires failed and caused the SUV to roll over. The G.M. ignition switch defect is more difficult to prove and especially hard to uncover years later because of G.M.’s well orchestrated cover-up.