Trouble still surrounds GM as ignition switch trials begin
[UPDATE: The first trial against GM was dismissed after the plaintiff was found to be untrustworthy with altered documents and accounts about his injuries following his accident]
After two years of recalls, investigations and settlements, General Motors (GM) is entering the trial phase of the ignition switch fallout. For more than a decade, GM allowed a faulty detent plunger to be placed in vehicles, causing nearly 400 injuries and deaths.
The first official trial began Jan. 12 in New York, featuring a mailman who claims GM is responsible for the injuries sustained during a 2014 crash involving the plaintiff’s 2003 Saturn Ion. Robert Scheuer believes the ignition switch defect caused his accident, knocking him out for several hours and leading to memory loss. He claims he forgot to give the down payment check for his home due to injuries sustained in the accident, which caused his family to be evicted.
Recent evidence shows within the three hours after the accident, Scheuer made phone calls and left voicemails, countering the claims of unconsciousness. Additionally, the realtor involved with the eviction came forward after learning about the trial to provide additional details. According to his realtor, Scheuer faked a check stub for proof of funds in the purchase, causing his eviction.
While the new claims of fraud may discredit certain parts of Scheuer’s case and affect his recovery from GM, it does not distract from the fact that GM was responsible for thousands of accidents, many of which turned deadly.
In a pre-taped deposition, former GM-engineer Raymond DeGiorgio admitted his fault in authorizing the production of the detent plunger, knowing it was too short. He believed it was minor and wouldn’t cause problems in the cars because it was a matter of millimeters. Four years later in 2006, the switch was redesigned but the part number remained the same, causing confusion when investigating the accidents.
The detent plunger is used to hold the key in place in the lock cylinder. When it’s too short, the spring is loose and can be knocked out of place by bumping or jostling the key. If this happens while the vehicle is in motion, the key switches from ‘on’ to ‘off’ or ‘accessory,’ causing it to lose power brakes, power steering and airbags. Because the cars containing the faulty piece were largely made for younger drivers, this problem left many inexperienced young adults in traffic with a malfunctioning vehicle.
Once the recall broke, detent plungers of the correct size were produced around the clock to meet the demands of the millions of vehicles still on the road. Dealerships were overwhelmed with repair and loaner requests. Despite these repairs, the recalled vehicles are still having problems.
A safety watchlist noticed consumer complaints about their GM vehicles stalling after undergoing repairs. While GM claims after several inspections that the two problems are not connected, the automaker is still concerned that the vehicles are causing more problems for owners and drivers.
When it seems as if the end is in sight for GM, more problems arise. With five more lawsuits related to the GM ignition switch recall coming later this year, the company faces many more obstacles before it’s in the clear.
- Dye, “Ex-GM engineer acknowledges ‘mistakes’ made over ignition switch,” Reuters (Jan. 15, 2016). [Link]
- Gardella & G. Gutierrez, “Safety watchlist finds stalling complaints about fixed GM cars,” NBC News (Jan. 17, 2016). [Link]
- Larson, “GM ignition switch trial hits snag over fraud claims,” The Detroit News (Jan. 19, 2016). [Link]
- Neumeister, “Mailman vs. GM: 1st ignition switch trial begins in New York,” Associated Press (Jan. 12, 2016). [Link]