Awhile ago, we wrote about the continually-increasing number of fatalities due to faulty ignition switches in General Motors vehicles. Over the past 13 years, GM’s defective switches have now contributed to a number of deaths that exceeds 100, and the number only seems to be growing.
GM covered up many of these fatalities for years, but the problem is now fully public and the news only continues to get worse and worse.
It is now estimated that faulty GM ignition switches have played a primary role in over 100 fatal accidents, and in addition to a $35-million civil fine, and hundreds of millions of dollars more in victims compensations and settlements, it is now possible that GM will face criminal charges as a result of these cases.
According to several reports, federal prosecutors are getting ready to prosecute GM in a criminal complaint for their negligence in the matter.
The ignition switches, which were used in the 2003–2007 Saturn Ion, 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, 2006–2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006–2010 Pontiac Solstice, and 2007–2010 Saturn Sk, are known to easily fall out of position, turning the engine in the cars off. This results in a lack of braking, power steering, and airbag deployment, which has led to many crashes – crashes in which the safety systems failed to work properly.
The criminal aspect of the case largely centers around the allegations that GM engineers knew about the faulty switches and continued to approve the designs anyway. Many GM employees have already been fired over the matter, but prosecutors believe that the problem ran deeper within the company, showing a pattern of gross negligence and a disregard for human life.
Furthermore, it is alleged that GM did its best to cover up these issues and their aftermath, and took years to act on complaints, which came from both customers and the NHTSA.
In a potential criminal case, federal prosecutors could opt to levy charges against individual employees – an unusual practice – or against GM as a whole. The latter seems to be the far more likely option, and would have major ramifications for one of the world’s largest automakers.
An investigation has been taking place for over a year, and the decision as to whether GM is criminally liable for ignition switch fatalities should come soon. Stay tuned.