The General Motors ignition switch defect resulted in more than 100 deaths of motorists in Chevrolet Cobalts when the switch turned off the electrical power in the car. The loss of electrical power meant power was cut off to the steering and brakes, contributing to a loss of control with the car and, as critical, the shutting off the air bag.
GM failed to “discover” this defect for a decade, in spite of the switch not meeting GM’s engineering specifications, the part being modified during production and the company’s lawyers settling lawsuits involving the defective switch where air bags failed to deploy.
The negligence of GM’s operation was staggering, and the U.S. Justice Department is apparently in the process of determining that this was more than inadvertence or mere negligence, and bringing criminal charges against the company.
GM refused to recall the switch prior to 2014, acknowledging only 13 fatalities. A special compensation fund was created with an administrator to review claims and he has determined at least 100 deaths resulted from the defective switch.
The “parade of horribles” from GM’s management included viewing the problem with the switch as a customer convenience issue and placing a more robust switch into production, but failing to change the part number or even report that a new part was being used.
This helped to obscure the defect, as cars tested with a new part would appear to have a function properly, and with identical part numbers, there would be no way of knowing whether a defective switch had been installed on a car.
The criminal penalties and the terms of the settlement agreement are still being negotiated, but they are expected to exceed the $1.2 billion fine imposed on Toyota involving the unintended acceleration issue.
Consumerist.com, “GM Could Face Criminal Charges Over Ignition Defect That Killed More Than 100,” Chris Morran, May 26, 2015