The auto product liability lawyers at BISNAR | CHASE have been closely following reports of the General Motors ignition defects scandal for at least 10 years, according to Brian Chase, the firm’s senior litigation partner. In fact, BISNAR | CHASE started studying the issue closely in 2006 when the firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of the husband and children of the first known victim who was killed in a car accident linked to GM’s defective ignitions – Shara Lynn Towne.
Fatal Saturn Ion Accident
The crash occurred on July 4, 2004 in Visalia, Calif. when Towne’s Ion sedan jumped a curb and hit a utility pole head-on in a parking lot. The Ion’s airbags did not deploy, according to the police report and a corresponding entry in the government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Towne, who was 37 years old at the time, died on impact. She was the sole occupant of the car and there were no known witnesses. Investigators could not reach a firm conclusion on what caused the accident.
GM first learned about Towne’s death in March 2006, when we filed a lawsuit on behalf of her husband and children against the automaker, the dealership that sold the vehicle and two suppliers who made some of the car’s safety systems. GM reported the crash to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the second quarter of 2006. The automaker confidentially settled Towne’s case out of court and the case was dismissed in September 2007.
GM Knew of Defects
All these reports only point to the fact that GM knew about these dangerous and defective vehicles. One of our clients had lost his wife and the children their mother in this accident. 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.
Since GM’s recall earlier this year, a number of reports and memos have surfaced, which show that the automaker knew about the ignition defects a decade ago, but did nothing about it. We learned from reports that it would have cost GM 57 cents per vehicle to fix the problem – and yet, they didn’t.
Internal documents have divulged damning information including that fact that GM received hundreds of consumer complaints about the faulty ignitions and could have diagnosed the problem 10 years ago. But, the automaker did nothing to inform consumers or get the cars off the road. GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, who testified before Congress, admitted that her company messed up, but insisted that she was not aware of the problem until January of this year. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation probing GM’s actions or the lack of it on the matter of the faulty ignitions. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also conducting a separate investigation, which could result in massive civil penalties for GM.
After a decade, we at BISNAR | CHASE continue to actively pursue these cases because we believe that victims and families who have been subjected to grief and injury as a result of these GM auto defects get the justice they deserve. GM should not be able to hide under their federal bailout excuse or any other excuse, says Chase. They must be held accountable and stop placing profit over people.