Auto manufacturer General Motors Company (GMC) has issued a recall for more than 1.6 million cars, including particular model years for the Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet Cobalt, and Pontiac G5s. For most models, the years are in the 2005 to 2007 range. The recall has been linked to the deaths of several persons, including at least one Maryland resident.
What is the Defect?
USA Today reports that the recall is related to a defect in the ignition system, which could allow the ignition to move from the “run” to “accessory” mode if it was jarred or pulled by a heavy keychain. This would in turn shut off the engine and potentially disable the airbags.
General Motors admits that the ignition defect has been linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes; however, there are some that contend the number of deaths is much higher.
Friedman Research, a company that analyses vehicle safety data, claims to have linked the deaths of 303 people to accidents in which the airbags of their General Motors vehicles failed to deploy. Although the exact number of deaths is disputed, as information about the defect becomes more widely available it is possible for the number to rise.
Maryland Products Liability Law and Airbag Defects
The General Motors ignition defect has led to the filing of several wrongful death lawsuits and settlements. In cases like this, a Maryland products liability attorney may file legal claims based on several different theories including product liability for manufacturing or design defect, product liability for failure to warn, negligence, and breach of warranty.
Because in Maryland there is strict liability for products with manufacturing or design defects, this is often the strongest legal theory. Unlike with a claim for negligence, an auto manufacturer cannot raise contributory negligence as a defense to a products liability claim.
In Maryland, for a Plaintiff to succeed on a claim for a manufacturing or design defect, a plaintiff must prove several elements:
1) The product must have been defective when it left the control of the manufacturer. If, for example, the product became defective afterwards because of the buyer’s negligence in maintaining the product, this element will not be satisfied.
2) The product must be unreasonably dangerous. In cases where there have been multiple deaths attributed to a defect, this element is less difficult to prove.
3) The plaintiff must prove that the product’s defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This may be the most difficult element, because General Motors may be able to argue that the airbags did not deploy due to the physics of the particular crash, or that the plaintiff would have been injured even if the airbags deployed.
4) There must have been no substantial change in the product prior to its having reached the plaintiff. For example, General Motors could argue as a defense that the automobile dealer tampered with the airbags of the vehicle after it left General Motors, if there was evidence to support this argument.
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