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GM's "Cost Culture" Leads To Death And Injury In Ignition Switch Cases

Take a moment to pick someone: a friend, a spouse, a relative, a child, your local barista, anyone. Imagine their face. Think about their laugh. Now, put a price tag on that person's life. It's an unthinkable task, right? 

There are few people who would argue that anyone's life could be measured by something as immaterial as the dollar. But what if a large automotive company told us what they thought a human life wasn't worth? Well, it happened. The offending company is General Motors (GM), and it is currently in the midst of what has fast become one of the ugliest, most unforgivable recall stories in automotive history.

Currently, there are varying reports regarding the number of lives that have been lost as a result of GM's defective ignition switches. (Depending on which source you consult with, the number ranges from thirty-something to hundreds.) And while we expect that number to rise as defective GM cars remain on our roads, the most disturbing fact is that the automaker knew they were putting customers' lives at risk and refused to address the problem.

In addition to GM waiting more than 10 years to issue a multi-stage recall, their decision not to replace the faulty ignition switch with an improved switch was motivated by a single factor: COST. 

How Much Was Too Much for GM?

Back to the "price tag" dilemma. If you were to guess how much it would have cost GM per vehicle to switch out the defective ignitions on their affected cars, you would likely guess a lot, or at the very least you would hope for it to be a lot. Not that any amount is justifiable, but it is in a rational person's nature to assume a corporate giant who reported $155.4 billion in revenue for the year 2013 would do whatever it takes to ensure the innocent people driving their cars had spent their hard-earned money on a vehicle that was "safe." Based on their revenue reports, they certainly have the resources enabling them to make safe cars.

Ninety cents ($0.90). That was the cost per vehicle for GM to repair the defective ignition switches. Less than $1.00.

GM's executives simply made a "business decision" not to replace the faulty ignition switches with replacement switches that had proven to be safer for the simple reason that it would cost them more money. More money than the company thought anyone's life was worth who was driving one of the defective vehicles.

10.6 Millimeters to 12.2 Millimeters

The main focus of the GM ignition switch lawsuits centers on a mechanism inside the ignition assembly known as the switch detent plunger. The defective version of the detent plunger measured 10.6 millimeters (roughly the diameter of a dime) in length from the tip of the plunger to the end of its spring. The problem GM engineers quickly uncovered was the fact that the shorter spring did not create enough tension, allowing the ignition key to move or jostle from the on/run position to the accessory or off position. (The accessory position allows the car to use the least amount of energy possible while the engine is not running so that the occupants can still operate features such as the power locks and windows, radio, wipers, etc.)

The redesigned switch detent plunger that GM knew would fix the tension problem measured to be 1.6 Millimeters longer. The additional millimeters was found to create enough tension to help ensure the keys, when jostled in the ignition, didn't disengage from the inside of the switch and shut off the car's power.

When a driver loses power to their vehicle they lose power steering and power braking. The obvious result is an increased likelihood that the driver will be involved in a collision with another vehicle or fixed object. Unfortunately, if a collision does occur the vehicle's airbags are also rendered ineffective, raising the risk of serious injury and/or death. 

What can You Do?

Most important is to check GM's Ignition Recall Safety Information page to see if your vehicle is included in the recall. The level of scrutiny that has been place don GM by groups like the National Highway Safety Administration and a growing number of defective GM ignition attorneys has helped to ensure that GM is forcing itself to be more forthcoming than they proved to be in the years before the most recent recall notices.

Second, if you or a loved one suffered serious injury as a result of an accident you believe to be related to a defective ignition switch, you should immediately contact an attorney for a free case evaluation. Product liability cases represent some of the most difficult and expensive cases in our justice system. Having an experienced injury attorney secure evidence and cover investigation expenses on your behalf will be crucial in your attempt to recover compensation.

A massive company like GM has an endless supply of resources that will include high-priced defense attorneys. We would never advise you to attempt this fight without a team of legal professionals looking out for your interests.

To speak with an attorney in our legal network who is currently accepting and investigating these cases, you can dial us direct at 1-800-253-5537, or write to us with the details of your potential claim by using our free contact form.  

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller
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