GM Ignition Switch Death Toll Reaches 80; Feds Continue Criminal Probe into Recall Delay

For years GM denied that there was any problem at all with its vehicles.  But over the course of 2014 and through the first quarter of 2015, it seems that hardly a week has passed without an update to injury and death tallies due to the defective ignition switches. Last Monday, General Motors announced that deaths due to its ignition switch defect that remained unresolved for more than a decade had reached 80.

This number has continued to increase as submitted claims have been reviewed by GM’s compensation fund administrator, Kenneth Feinberg. The fund began accepting claims for compensation in August 2014 remained open for submissions until December of last year. When the process closed, there were more than 4,000 claims. As the backlog of claims for compensation are whittled down, it is likely the numbers will increase further. And, to be clear, the 80 deaths only represent those that meet the fund’s criteria set by Mr. Feinberg. It is possible and some say, likely, that other deaths due to the ignition switch defect did occur. But in these instances family members will have to prove that the defect was the cause of the death or injury.

As the claims continue to be reviewed, additional injuries are also still being uncovered. Claims for injuries have ranged from broken bones, burns, cuts and lacerations to catastrophic traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. The current confirmed injury tally increased by 7 from 141 people injured to 148 people injured. While GM said that it had already set aside $400 million for compensation, that amount may prove to be insufficient to cover all injury and death claims. GM has hinted that it believes total damage awards could reach $600 million.

Feds open criminal investigation into ignition switch recall failures

In a rare step highlighting the seriousness of this defect and the failures that allowed it to fester and grow, the Justice Department has launched a criminal probe into this defect that has caused more than 200 deaths and injuries combined. Also, there are Congressional probes in both Houses of Congress that will be launched over the course of the upcoming months.

IN the House, a committee will lead an investigation that will look into the events that lead-up to the massive ignition switch recall. The committee is expected to look at why more wasn’t done sooner and why GM continued to ignore increasingly concerned inquired from federal regulators and Congress. In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockafeller has already announced his intention to ask Sen. Claire McCaskill to hold hearings in the Senate.

While this move is rare, it is not unprecedented. The Department of Justice has been involved in a criminal investigation regarding the Toyota unintended acceleration vehicle defect. To date, this investigation has already lasted for four years. This inquiry is focus on whether Toyota broke the law by failing to disclose or improperly disclosing reports of the defect and consumer complaints. This inquiry would likely be on top of any regulatory action or investigation taken by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In any case, some safety advocates believe that the time has finally come where regulators and politicians can no longer continually defer judgment to the auto manufacturers and part suppliers, hope for the best, and not suffer any public consequences. Rather, the public is demanding answers into how numerous recalls over the past few years — such as the ignition switch recall, the Takata airbag inflator recalls,  the Toyota acceleration defect, and the Trinity guardrail end-cap defect – have been allowed to fester under regulators watch. According to the head of the Center for Auto Safety,  “It’s high time for the Justice Department to conduct criminal investigations of automakers who conceal defects and people die.”

Injured by a dangerous or defective vehicle in Arkansas?

If you have been severely injured by a vehicle defect, contact an experienced Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer and defect products lawyer. The Kieklak Law Office has fought for injured Arkansans for more than 20 years. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call (479) 316-0438 today or contact us online.