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GM may have been aware of safety issues since 2005

Pennsylvania residents are likely aware that General Motors has been mired in controversy since the beginning of 2014 regarding defects that have led to the recall of over 16 million vehicles. The Detroit-based automaker had admitted that problems with the ignition switches on cars including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion have caused 30 car accidents and claimed the lives of 37 people. However, the most concerning questions for legislators and consumer advocates revolve around how soon GM actually became aware of the problem and the nature of their response.

Documents released detailing communication between GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that car rental companies may have raised safety questions as early as 2005. Car manufacturers encourage companies like Avis, Hertz, Alamo and Enterprise to add new models to their fleets, and the experiences of rental car drivers plays an important role in post-release research since mileage accumulates quickly on those vehicles. A 2006 accident involving a Chevrolet Cobalt rented from Alamo bears the hallmarks of the ignition switch defect that prompted the 2014 recalls: The driver of the Cobalt was killed when the car drifted across the highway and overturned. The vehicle's airbags did not deploy.

GM claims that it has made improvements to the way accidents are reported and investigated. A team has been set up within the company to handle emerging safety issues, and the engineering department has been reorganized to improve response times. Legislators are also scrutinizing the policies and procedures in place at the NHTSA.

Consumers expect manufacturers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that their products are safe, and this includes taking swift action once a dangerous defect is discovered. Failing to take these steps could lead to serious injury or death, and a personal injury attorney may pursue a negligent company in civil court seeking compensation for the victims of its negligence.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Rental-car companies pushed GM on fatal crashes before recall", Jeff Plungis and Tim Higgins, July 31, 2014

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Gregory R. Gifford
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