General Motors Co. (GM) filed 2,004 reports on injuries and deaths stemming from accidents in cars that have been recalled for ignition-related defects, the Center for Auto Safety said.
The advocacy group, citing its research of the carmaker’s reports to regulators, yesterday urged an adviser of Detroit-based GM to investigate each incident to determine whether the ignition-switch defect played a role in it.
“The defective ignition switch in the recalled Delta platform vehicles goes beyond the airbag failing to deploy,” said the center, referring to the 2.59 million cars called in for switch repairs. “The vehicle loses the electric power steering and power brakes, which can lead to loss of control resulting in a crash.”
All of the ignition-switch victims must be found before they can be compensated, the safety group said in a letter yesterday to Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer hired by GM to advise it on helping victims of accidents tied to the defect. The letter to Feinberg comes the same week as a report by Anton Valukas, hired by GM to probe its handling of the defect, is due.
GM is facing Congressional probes and fighting more than 100 lawsuits over the recalled cars’ declining prices, claims for injuries and deaths and the alleged waste of corporate assets. The Detroit-based automaker agreed in May to pay a record $35 million fine to settle a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into whether it acted according to the law on the recall.
The center said some victims aren’t being counted by GM. It cited the death of Brooke Melton after she lost control of the car she was driving. GM hasn’t included her in its list of 13 ignition deaths, even though the lawyer handling the case, which GM settled, has tied Melton’s accident to the defect, it said.
Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman, responded, citing previous statements that the company has taken responsibility for its actions and will keep doing so.
“We also have acknowledged that we have civic and legal obligations relating to injuries that may relate to recalled vehicles,” according to the statement. “That is why we retained Kenneth Feinberg to advise us of what options may be available to deal with those obligations.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee investigators are probing why the largest U.S. automaker took years to recall millions of Ions, Cobalts and other cars to fix a fault in ignition switches that could unintentionally cut engine power and deactivate air bags.
GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra met with lawmakers May 21 to brief them on the status of the automaker’s internal investigation into the ignition-switch recall.
As part of the NHTSA settlement, GM agreed to internal changes in the way it reviews potential defects and orders recalls. Committees in both the U.S. House and Senate have said they expect to have additional hearings on the GM recall this year.
An earlier analysis by the Center for Auto Safety reported as many as 303 deaths tied to air bags not deploying in 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2003-07 Saturn Ion cars. That analysis was criticized by both GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as inconclusive.
The study, based on data in the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, couldn’t determine whether the incidents were all related to the ignition-switch defect, the company and regulators said in March. The database doesn’t code accidents precisely enough to draw such a conclusion, they said.