General Motors was aware of problems with its Delphi-manufactured ignition switches for more than a decade, but they only took action issuing a recall in early 2014. Over the course of that decade millions of vehicles — including the Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, and Saturn Ion – were produced that were prone to the ignition switch defect. These affected vehicles would lose engine power when a sufficient jarring event caused the ignition switch to slip. Vehicles that lost power were likely to go out of control while safety features like airbags were disabled by the loss of power.
Now, with just days remaining before the GM defective ignition switch compensation fund closes, more than 50 deaths have been confirmed to have been caused by the defect. In all, the fund has received more than 338 claims for compensation for wrongful deaths and 2,730 claims for injury compensation. 328 claims for compensation for serious injuries have also been accepted. Compensation for death caused by the ignition switch defect currently starts at $1 million.
GM Reports That 900,000 Vehicles Still Need Ignition Switch Fix
According to documents filed by GM with National High Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency responsible for overseeing vehicle safety and recalls, GM has recalled more than 2 million vehicles due to the ignition switch defect. The company reports that approximately 1,200,000 vehicles have already been repaired by dealers. However, this means that approximately 900,000 vehicles that are, presumably, being driven regularly are still affected by this dangerous design defect. the company currently considers about 80,000 vehicles to be “unreachable” and thus unlikely to be repaired through the normal channels.
Recalled Vehicles Going Unrepaired Is A Nationwide Problem
The problems with defective and unrepaired vehicles on the highways and roadways aren’t solely limited to GM vehicles. In fact, it is a major national problem. In light of a study commissioned by Carfax, the company’s communication director summed up the situation as such, “America’s cavalier response to manufacturer safety recalls is putting lives at risk.” He continued to describe the situation faced by millions of Americans as, “Every morning millions of people drive to work, school and other places in a potential ticking time bomb. Fires, crashes and serious injury are just a few consequences of letting recalls go unfixed. The minor inconvenience that comes from having a recall fixed pales in comparison to what can happen if you don’t.”
According to the study conducted by Carfax, 46 million cars currently being driven in the United States have at least 1 open safety recall. This is a huge increase over last year’s study when it was found that 3 million vehicles had at least one open recall. In 2014 alone, 5 million cars that were bought or sold had at least one open vehicle recall. SUVs and minivans present the greatest risk of purchasing or selling a vehicle with a defect. 33% of minivans transferred and 20% of SUVs transferred contained at least one open recall. 1 in 6 cars and 1 in 7 trucks that were transferred in 2014 contained at least one open recall.
The study is especially troubling for drivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to Carfax, in terms of raw numbers Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Texas and California have the most vehicles with open defects. However states where the percentage of vehicles with a defect is highest include New Jersey, Michigan, West Virginia, Mississippi and Wyoming. Carfax considered these findings as proof of an “ongoing threat to public safety.” Unfortunately, this ongoing threat to public safety is completely within the bounds of the current regulatory process.
There is No Federal Law Requiring Repair Of Defective Used Vehicles Before Sale
While a new vehicle may not be transferred if it contains known defects due to a recall, the same does not hold true for used cars, trucks and SUVs. In fact, there is no requirement at the federal level for a used car dealer to repair or provide notice of unrepaired recalls before the vehicle is sold or leased. This type of an approach is counter to consumer expectations and counterintuitive because it is the original owner who is most likely to be notified of vehicle problems or recalls. Thus, the original owner is typically best positioned to address and correct vehicle defects.
Unfortunately, the current regulatory system does not take address this problem. Furthermore, past efforts to pass legislation that would require used car deals to repair known defects have been blocked by lobbying groups. A bill that would require rental car companies to repair vehicles with known defects before renting them has been stalled n the Senate since 2011. The Grow America Act originally had provisions that would require used car dealers to repair known defects, but those provisions were stripped from the bill. In response, consumers have petitioned lawmakers to address these safety oversights. One change.org petition has attracted nearly 94,000 signatures in support of requiring repair of known defects prior to allowing a used vehicle to be transferred.
What this means is that it is entirely legal for used car dealers to transfer cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans with open recalls. With more than 5 million instances of vehicle transfers with at least one known open recall in 2014, this problem is extremely widespread and affects all motorists. If this fact wasn’t bad enough, consider the breakdown of transferred defective vehicles, as described above. Family-oriented vehicles – chiefly minivans and SUVs – are the most likely to be transferred with known open recalls. This could mean that millions of families, in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States, are unknowingly being subjected to avoidable dangers and risks that could cause catastrophic injuries or death.
This potential danger could be rectified simply by revamping the regulatory regime so that used vehicles are subject to the same transfer restrictions as new vehicles if the car, truck or SUV has a known open recall. Such an approach would encourage detection and correction of problems by the original owner who is in the best position to take action. Further, this approach would align more closely with consumer expectations.
If you or a loved one has already suffered a serious injury such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or broken bones due to a vehicle defect, you may be entitled to compensation. Furthermore, if a close family member has been wrongfully killed by a defective vehicle, you may also have a legal claim. For a free and confidential personal injury and product liability legal consultation, call the attorneys of Reiff & Bily at (215) 274-0072 today.
- Carmax counts 46 million vehicles with unrepaired recalls
- Death toll from ignition switches rises to at least 50
- GM ignition switch recall update says nearly 900,000 vehicles still needs fix