The New York Times’ front page today highlights the lives and deaths of the 13 individuals who were killed in car crashes linked to GM ignition defects. One of the cases highlighted in the Times article is that of 37-year-old Shara Lynn Towne, mother of five, who died in a single-vehicle crash on July 4, 2004 when her 2004 silver Saturn Ion ran off the road and crashed into a utility pole. Towne’s is the first known GM ignition defect fatality and the California auto defect law firm of BISNAR | CHASE represented Towne’s husband and children in that case.
GM Settled Case Quietly
Towne was wearing her seatbelt, but the car’s airbags did not deploy during the crash. Our law firm filed the case on behalf of Towne’s family. And as the Times says, it is the earliest known litigation that had to do with the GM defect, which led to the recall of more than 2.6 million vehicles in February. At the time of that court filing, Ions had been sold to the public for four years. GM settled with the Towne family confidentially in 2007.
Brian Chase, partner at BISNAR | CHASE who represented Towne’s family, told The New York Times that General Motors knew about this defect, but decided to keep consumers in the dark. “GM knew of this defect back then and yet made a decision to quietly settle out of court so there would be no media or government attention,” Chase said.
Operating in Secrecy
The New York Times found through its own investigations that 12 victims died in 10 separate accidents in nine states and Canada, the earliest one being Towne and the latest less than a year ago on June 22, 2013. They ranged in age from 13 to 81. All but one of the accidents were single-car crashes in which the driver lost control and crashed head-on into an obstacle. In each case, the airbags failed to deploy. GM has refused to identify the victims saying that they are “not publicly identifying victims out of respect for the families’ privacy.”
Victims and Families Have Paid the Price
But the Times’ research shows that GM had anything but respect for the families. The automaker refused to even communicate privately about the accidents with the families that had lost loved ones. Victims’ families say that this cloak of secrecy has little to do with respect and more to do with protection from legal liability. As the daughter of one of the victims says, it would have been nice if GM had acknowledged what happened, at least to the victims’ families.
Instead, we’ve seen from a series of media reports since the recall that GM actually threatened and intimidated families, putting the blame on drivers. One woman, whose passenger was killed in a crash now linked to the ignition defects, even faced a manslaughter charge and carries the guilt to this day, when the actual culprit in that case was the defective vehicle. The automaker even went to great lengths to cover up the ignition defect, which we learned, they could have fixed for under $1 per vehicle.
Yet, they allowed these dangerous and defective vehicles to remain on the roadways, putting consumers’ lives in grave danger. How many lives could’ve been saved had the automaker acted in a timely manner and recalled those defective vehicles? We thank The New York Times for publishing this enlightening article and vindicating these deceased victims and their families. These families have paid the price for GM’s actions. It is now time for the automaker to step up and do the right thing.