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Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten
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How lawyers unearthed GM’s hidden ignition switch dangers

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GM rejected safety ignition switch design in 2001 – because of 90 cents to fix

The GM recall involves a small part called the detent plunger.

The GM recall involves a small part called the detent plunger.

We have lost 13 innocent lives.

Because of a defective ignition switch in several General Motors car models — a defect the automaker now has allegedly known about for years —  13 people have died.

The defect would have stayed hidden, and more people would have died – if not for a  lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the women killed because of GM’s defective ignition switches. The lawsuit exposed GM’s deliberate decision to conceal a known dangerous design defect that would have cost just 90-cents to fix, according to a recent story on NBC News, “Did GM Reject Safer Ignition Switch Design in 2001 Because of Cost?”

It finally forced  GM to admit the problem.

Now, GM has recalled 2.6 million cars, including Chevy Cobalts and HHRs, Pontiac G5s, Pursuits and Solstices and Saturn Ions and Skys – from model years 2003 to 2007. The ignition switch problem could cause ignitions to slip from “run” to “accessory” or “off” positions while being driven. In turn, vehicles could stall, shutting down power brakes and power steering and preventing airbags from deploying.

Such as the vehicle of 29-year old  Brooke Melton, a pediatric nurse from Georgia who was killed in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt in 2010, when the ignition allegedly shut off as she drove down a highway on a rainy night. She then lost control of the vehicle and was hit on the passenger side by an oncoming car, according to published reports.

Newly released internal GM documents reveal that in 2001, the company considered —and rejected — an ignition switch design that  safety advocates say could have avoided the problem.

All to save a few bucks.

Cars are full of safety features. But it isn’t because of car manufacturers, who, like GM, have historically fought against most safety improvements to save money. And it isn’t because of government safety regulators, who unfortunately are either asleep at the switch, outmatched by the financial resources of the industry and the immense scope of the job, or who (let’s face it) sometimes bow to industry pressure or are looking for more lucrative second careers within the companies they’re charged with policing.

Your car is safer, and hundreds, maybe thousands of lives are saved every year, because of lawyers.  It was personal injury lawyers – that profession so often attached by the insurance companies – that brought lawsuits within the American civil justice system to hold corporations accountable for injuring and killing people that has caused the same companies to adopt safety standards and prevent future harms.

Brooke Melton’s parents were the first to file a civil lawsuit against GM, exposing the deadly defect.  And as the facts emerge, it appears more and more like corporate criminality.

The GM recall and the litigation that exposed the company’s decision to conceal a fatal design reiterates the need for a strong, open, and free civil justice system.  And it’s imperative for the public to understand the role our courts and our legal system play in protecting the public and exposing corporate wrongdoing.

Watch CNN’s Michael Smerconish talk about the role the civil justice system played in unearthing GM’s reckless actions.

Whether it is exploding Pintos,  car windows that suffocated dozens of children, or the American civil rights movement that expanded civil liberties to millions, it was lawyers that pushed for positive social change and protections – when no one else would.

I say this again, because injury lawyers who protect the public are fighting stifling tort reform that would have stopped lawsuits like the one filed by the parents of Brooke Melton, and which would strip away a multitude of rights for injury victims.

In  Michigan, where I practice law, the civil justice system has been decimated over the last two decades as special interests have undermined the public’s ability to access the legal system. Read my comments on the 38 biggest judicial travesties at the hands of the Michigan Supreme Court.

A dialogue with GM’s CEO Mary Barra

Finally, I wanted to end today with a thought-provoking shout-out to my friend, and an outstanding fellow lawyer,  Robert Collins from  Texas.

As GM’s CEO Mary Barra faces the fire, she claims the ignition switch safety crisis is a result of the “old GM.” Collins, who wants to hold Barra and her attorneys accountable, wonders: How easy would it have been for one of the members who questioned her to have said:

“So Ms. Barra you say it’s a new day at GM?
Not going to cheat anymore?
GM and its lawyers are not going to lie to courts anymore?
Not going to lie to these families anymore?
Not going to hide and destroy evidence?
Not going to assert frivolous defenses to drive victims litigation costs up?
Not going to attack victims?
Not going to attack families of victims?
Not going to attack the lawyers who represent the victims?
Not going to fake evidence to defend cases?
Not going to demand secrecy when you pay off victims?

Ok, sounds good, so here’s a letter from you to your lawyers, who do these heinous things in your name daily across the U.S….It instructs them that GM will fire them, sue them for fee disgorgement and will report them to their bar associates for disbarment if they do any of the things listed above.

Now sign it here before God and country, or prove you are nothing more than the same old GM liar and that nothing has changed except now they have a woman lying instead of a man.

Oh, and one more question. You make $20 million per year. What is your child’s life worth in dollars as you sit here? One year of your salary?  Ten years?”

1 Comment

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  1. MouthyGirl says:
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    My cousin drives a Saturn ION and her power steering went out two days ago – in my mind I connected it with the ignition problem which she has had issues with. For the last two years, she hasn’t been able to get her car out of her ignition most of the time like regular people. it’s a start / shutdown / pull key and hope it comes out or start over kind of problem. Dealerships all say they don’t have the part.

    So…do um, more people have to die for this to be fixed across the board like NOW?!