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Ignition Switch Failure Becoming Large Issue for Automaker

General Motor’s faulty ignition switches have been a hot topic in the news since the beginning of 2014. In February, GM recalled 800,000 vehicles due to defective ignition switches, and since then, the number has grown to 29 million vehicles recalled in North America. Vehicles affected by the defective ignition switch include the Chevy Cobalt, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Solstice, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, and Saturn Sky

According to GM, a heavy key ring or a “jarring event,” such as hitting a bump in the road, could cause the defective ignition switch to slip out of position, shutting off power steering and brakes, and causing the air bags to fail in a crash.

Deaths & Injuries Linked to the Faulty Switch

GM has linked 13 deaths and 54 crashes to the defective switch; however, a recent review of federal crash data commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety identified over 300 deaths in GM cars with undeployed airbags. The drastic difference in numbers it attributable to the criteria GM is using to tally deaths. The automaker is only counting failures that resulted in front-impact collisions in which airbags did not deploy. For these victims and their families, GM has set up a compensation program.

According to GM’s criteria, if a vehicle’s airbag deployed or if the resulting accident wasn’t a head-on crash, the victims don’t qualify for the compensation program—even if ignition switch failure caused or contributed to their injuries. That means hundreds of accident victims are potentially ineligible for compensation. For example, an injured passenger who was riding in the backseat, or who was involved in a rear-end collision, would not qualify for compensation.

Seeking Compensation in Civil Court

As the number of recalled vehicles has grown exponentially over the course of 2014 and GM has come under increased public scrutiny, the company now claims its compensation fund will accept applications from all victims of recalled GM vehicles until the end of the year, including those involved in side-impact and rear-impact collisions. This means the company’s estimate of 13 fatalities and 54 related accidents will most definitely rise.

However, many victims are still unlikely to qualify for compensation, as GM maintains that airbag failure must have caused or contributed to injuries. For the remainder of victims and their families, civil court may be the proper venue for seeking recovery. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 80 ignition switch-related lawsuits have already been filed against GM, and the number is likely to increase in the coming months.