By Linda Sandler
Facing lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada over faulty ignition switches, General Motors might not have recalled all Chevrolet Cobalts with the defects, according to two complaints filed against the carmaker.
While the flawed switches prompted GM to recall 1.6 million cars, including Cobalts for the model years 2005-2007, defects that have been linked to deaths weren’t all fixed, according to a complaint filed by 13 customers in federal court in San Francisco.
A second lawsuit in Alabama state court cites technical service bulletins that GM allegedly sent to dealers alerting them that keys may “stick” or “ bind” in the ignition cylinders of non-recalled Cobalts and other cars.
The San Francisco complaint includes a claim that faulty key systems persist in Cobalts through 2010, while the Alabama customers say Detroit-based GM knew of problems with Cobalts built before April 2009.
GM didn’t address design flaws that could lead to accidents, said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc., which researches product hazards.
“GM may have to expand the recall,” he said. “Note that the driver’s knee can turn the key off too.”
Kane rated the difficulty of removing Cobalt keys, cited in the Alabama suit, as less hazardous than a design flaw that could cause air bags and engine power to fail.
“We will not comment specifically on the suit or pending litigation,” GM said in a statement. “We are recalling all of the vehicles that were manufactured with the specific ignition switch involved in this condition.”
GM shares have declined about 14 percent this year.
Mark Reuss, GM vice president of global product development, said in an interview with reporters on March 18 that the automaker has already identified all the models that used the flawed switches.
“Where the switch was used in production, we have done a very accurate and complete read across,” Reuss said.
The defects have been linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths, according to the San Francisco lawsuit, in which customers seek repairs plus unspecific punitive damages. GM revised the figure to 12 deaths because it said one was double-counted.
One attorney for plaintiffs, Lance Cooper, a solo practitioner in Georgia who represents the family of a woman who died in a Cobalt crash in 2010, sent government regulators a letter last month saying there are more faulty GM models still on the road.
Six days later, on Feb. 25, the automaker more than doubled its recall to include other mid-2000s GM models, including Saturn Ions and Pontiac Solstices, saying their ignition switches could unexpectedly turn off if jostled by a driver or weighed down by a heavy ring of keys, cutting power to the engine and air bags.
Separately, the families of three teenagers killed or injured in a 2006 Wisconsin car crash are suing GM, alleging that the company was negligent and committed fraud by not disclosing facts about the defects.
Natasha Weigel, who was 18, and Amy Rademaker, who was 15, died after the October 2006 crash involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt compact car with a faulty ignition switch. The car’s driver, Megan Phillips, suffered permanent brain damage, according to a statement from the families’ law firm.