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303 Deaths Now Linked to GM Car Recall

When General Motors recalled 1.6 million vehicles a few weeks ago, the company said they knew of only 12 deaths directly related to the product defects in question. Well, this may not come as much of a surprise, but it appears this was a conservative estimate. And that's putting it mildly.

In reality, it seems GM's number was off by almost 300 deaths. The Friedman Research Corporation, commissioned by private watchdog group the Center for Auto Safety, just completed a survey of federal crash data. According to the New York Times, they found 303 deaths that resulted from airbags not deploying in two of the recalled models. (The airbags fail to deploy when faulty ignition switches turn the car off in the event of a jolt or crash.)

Yes, you read that correctly. In looking at only two of the six models recalled (see the complete list here), this research entity found literally hundreds of deaths over the course of the decade these cars were out on the market. That's hundreds of lives lost due to a product defect GM has most likely known about since as early as 2001. The company's executives must have assumed that they could settle theses cases quietly out of court with the few people whose cars were affected.

I am anxious to begin litigating against GM to see how many settlements there were after GM knew about this particular defect. I wonder what GM disclosed to those with whom they settled these cases prior to this announcement of defect. Moreover, I suspect that there was a confidentiality agreement in place limiting those injured or their families from telling whatever it was they knew about this product defect.

Last year I finished an airbag case against another auto manufacturer in which a very similar defect had to be known to that manufacturer. The model of the car was old enough so that it was unlikely very many of those vehicles remained on the road. This can be a strategy for auto manufacturers--they choose to wait so that they need only respond to those that sue them and do not disclose known defects thinking that many injured parties will never bring suit anyway and further, if they wait long enough, many of the cars will be out of circulation. Here GM is getting caught and they will have to pay the price.

I have spent a great deal of my professional life filing suit against companies like GM and others as a San Francisco product liability lawyer. We see now how wrong GM was not to blow its own whistle sooner. There is already a criminal investigation underway by the Justice Department, so only time will tell what went on behind the scenes of one of the world's largest automakers.

I'm sure GM will find some way to argue the findings of this study. It is important to note that the researchers did not actually investigate the cause of these accidents, but only surveyed the instances in which airbags did not deploy. So, a few of those 303 deaths could be attributable to other factors besides the faulty ignition switch. Still, though, the facts are too convincing to ignore. The correlation between the faulty ignition switch and the airbag failure is too strong. This study, in my opinion, proves a shocking display of negligence on the part of a company that only a few years ago underwent a federally-funded restructuring. GM needs to be held accountable and take responsibility for its product. Again, that's putting it mildly.

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