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Ohio-manufactured GM cars recalled after 13 deaths

General Motors stopped making Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s at its Lordstown, Ohio plant several years ago, but an ignition problem in these compact cars is coming back to haunt drivers in Ohio and other states. Until now, drivers of these cars had no idea that they could experience an unexpected shut down, with no brakes or airbag function.

GM announced a massive recall of nearly a million Cobalts and G5 cars from the 2005 to 2007 model years in early February, after receiving reports of 22 accidents resulting in five fatalities. Two weeks later several other cars were added to the recall notice, including some of the orphaned Pontiac and Saturn brand models from 2006 and 2007. Thirteen more front seat deaths were linked to a faulty ignition switch which caused engine and power brake shutdowns.

Off-roading and heavy key chains blamed by GM

At first, General Motors only admitted that the ignition problem, which causes the ignition switch to pop out of the “run” position and move to the “accessory” or “off” position, occurred under “unusual circumstances” when the cars were driven over rough terrain or at high speeds, increasing the danger of serious injury or death. The company even blamed the failure to wear seatbelts or alcohol use by drivers as factors in these crashes, according to a statement by GM. Heavy key chains which could pull the ignition switch to a different position were also cited as part of the problem, so the company recommended that drivers of these cars use the key alone until a dealer could replace the incorrectly manufactured switch.

Ignition switch problem traced back a decade

Questions of how the problem causes accidents and why GM took so long to issue a recall have been the topic of discussion around the automobile industry. According to GM North American President Alan Batey, “the process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been.”

GM said it first became aware with the ignition switch problem in 2004, when field reports were filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about Cobalts losing power after the key moved out of the “run” position. Service bulletins were issued to dealers in 2005 and 2006 informing them how to fix the problem with a key insert, and advising them to tell customers not to dangle too many items from their key rings. However, only 574 customers received the key inserts, according to company records.

Federal fines and lawsuits

Automakers are required under federal regulations to report any safety problems within five business days to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration once the cause has been determined. The failure to timely report such safety related defects exposes manufacturers to stiff civil fines, with the maximum penalty for a related series of violations set at $35 million. With the GM recall coming in 2014 upon the “discovery” of the defect, a lawsuit against the automaker could be based on its violation of federal laws and regulations regarding automobile defects.

Under Ohio law, GM could be sued for compensation for serious injuries or wrongful death of a loved one resulting from this ignition defect even years after the car’s manufacture, due to GM’s possible fault in failing to notify consumers. Thousands of the popular Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles are still on the road in Ohio and elsewhere.

If you are injured as a result of defects in a vehicle, you should contact an experienced attorney who understands the law to help obtain the compensation you deserve.