While the Justice Department considers whether or not to charge General Motors (GM) with a crime for failing to inform drivers of defects in the company’s ignition switch, a study by a consultant hired by GM has led to a nearly ten fold increase in the number of deaths linked to the faulty switches.
The new estimate, released on August 21 by a consulting group led by famed attorney Kenneth Feinberg, puts the number of deaths from the defected ignition switches at 124. Previously, GM said it only knew of 13 deaths.
The deaths were the result of flawed ignition switches that would sporadically turn off the engine while the car was in motion. Sometimes all that was needed to cause an ignition switch malfunction was a heavy keychain. Adding to the lethality and seriousness of the injuries was the fact that when the ignition switch was not turned on the car’s airbags often did not work.
That’s right. You’re driving down the highway and suddenly the engine turns off and when you hit something going at high speeds you will not have the benefit of the airbags. Beyond the 124 deaths are an estimated 275 injuries related to the switches.
Eventually, GM issued a recall order for the faulty ignition switches and roughly 2.6 million cars were recalled. But the recall order appears to have come well after GM knew about the problem, which is where the Department of Justice might come in.
GM could be facing charges for failing to disclose the life-threatening malfunction in its ignition switch as well as for making false statements concerning the switch. According a May 25 report from The Wall Street Journal, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bhara is looking to bring charges against GM which could include a guilty plea or deferred prosecution agreement as well as criminal fines that could range in the hundreds of millions or billions.
Civil action by the victims of the defected ignition switches and their families against GM has been neutralized by, of all things, GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, reported Consumerist in April. The bankruptcy discharged all of GM’s old liabilities which apparently includes fraudulent behavior by GM executives regarding the faulty ignition switches.
Feinberg will help GM payout the $625 million the company has set aside for victims and their families. GM fired 15 employees in 2014 for incompetence relating to the ignition switches.