Over the past year there have been dozens of articles about GM’s faulty ignition switch. The ignition switch is implicated in 13 deaths as of June, 2014. Prior to 2013, the switch did not meet manufacturing specifications. The engineer spent so much time dealing with the part’s technical issues that he referred to it in a 2002 memo as “the switch from hell”.
The engineer who prepared the report was Ray DeGiorgio who was in charge of the faulty ignition switch. This scenarios set up a great products liability case. A part of the GM vehicle was defective when using the vehicle for the purpose it was intended (starting, stopping and connecting to air bags). The part failed and was the proximate cause of the drivers or passenger’s injuries and death. DeGiorgio said he approved the part for production in 2002 despite knowing that it did not meet technical specification and had failed “rotational torque” test. He approved production of the switch because no performance issues were bought to his attention and he had no awareness that the below in specification torque would have an impact on safe operation of the car.
In some cases, the problem resulted in ignition switches accidentally being turned from “run” to the “accessory” or “off” position while a car is being driven, shutting down power brakes, power steering and airbags. GM’s own figures linked ignition problems to 13 deaths according to an article published in www.nbcnews.com.
GM’s new CEO, Maria Barra told employees in June, 2014, that 15 GM employees had been fired and five others disciplined. Sources within GM told NBC News that DeGiorgio’s program engineering manager, Gary Altman and safety lawyers, William Kemp were among those fired. The CEO said an internal review found no evidence of cover up (which is hard to believe) but found a pattern of “misconduct or incompetence” that prevented GM’s officials from linking the faulty ignition switch to deadly crashes that occurred when cars suddenly stalled on the road. The report indicated rotational torque problems were first noted by a GM engineer two years earlier than previously reported. The prototype of the ignition switch under development for use in GM’s Saturn and ION, had failed tests for “rotational torque values” in 1999 and had discussions with the parts manufacturer, Eaton. Eaton is the manufacturer of the part who is also responsible to injured parties in warranty and products liability cases for the defective part. Even though the switch was defective, DeGiorgio approved production of the part to be used in GM’s Chevy Cobalt model. The report noted GM engineers working on the Chevy Cobalt “failed to understand what others at GM already knew”, when the ignition switch was inadvertently turned to “off” or “accessory position”. By design, the airbags would not deploy. The result was that the GM engineers categorized the ignition switch problem as a “convenience’ issue rather than one of safety.
NBC first reported in March, it was DeGiorgio who eventually ordered a design change to the new switch in 2006. GM used a slightly longer version of the component part as a “detent plunger” aimed at preventing the switch from inadvertently being turned off.
The repercussions of the faulty ignition switch fiasco have cost GM multi millions of dollars after a government investigation and hearings in Congress. General Motors agreed to pay a $35 million penalty for delays in reporting flaws in ignition switches that lead to at least 13 deaths. This penalty is in addition to money that GM will have to payout to settle or pay verdicts in cases where innocent people died. The NHTSA said the fine was the highest amount ever paid as a result of NHTSA investigation of violations stemming from a recall. US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx stated “literally silence can kill”. “GM did not act and did not alert us in a timely manner. What GM did was break the law. They failed to make their public safety obligations”.
In future blogs we will go over the money that GM is offering to those killed or injured as a result of the “switch from hell”.
If you, or someone you know, have been injured as a result of a vehicle defect, call the Law Office of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.