Girardi | Keese

Sens. call on NHTSA to take definitive action on massive GM recall

For the past few months, our blog has been closely following the recall of 2.6 million cars initiated by General Motors for a faulty ignition switch that has been definitively linked to at least 31 motor vehicle accidents and 13 confirmed traffic deaths.

To recap, these defective switches essentially make it possible for the ignitions on the recalled models to slip from the "run" position to the "accessory" position while in motion, meaning the motor can suddenly stop running and all vehicle safety systems (airbags, anti-lock brakes, etc.) can be rendered inoperable.

As if the size of the recall and the traffic fatalities weren't bad enough for the Detroit-based auto giant, it was eventually revealed that GM had known about the defect for nearly a decade before taking any action. In fact, company executives were recently grilled about this issue in televised hearings before Congress.

Things appeared to be improving somewhat for the embattled automaker just a few weeks back, however, following a ruling by a federal judge denying a petition filed by a Texas attorney for an emergency injunction that would have ordered GM to issue a "park-it-now" alert.

Here, they were essentially seeking an injunction that would have ordered GM to tell its customers to stop driving the affected models until further notice.

The ruling did not appear to shock many legal experts, who have since pointed out that no judge has heretofore ordered any car manufacturer to issue a park-it-now alert and that the feasibility of enforcing such an order was doubtful given the number of car owners involved.

In recent developments, GM once again found itself in the unwelcoming glow of the public spotlight earlier this week after Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, publically called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to pursue a park-it-now order concerning the affected GM models.

"GM has indicated that it could take until October, 2014, before it can complete all the needed repairs," wrote the senators. "Every day that unrepaired vehicles remain on the road increases the risk of more injuries, deaths and damage."

For his part, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx indicated that while the NHTSA can order recalls of unsafe cars, it remains unclear as to whether it actually has the power to force automakers to issue a park-it-now order. Indeed, he stated that the agency will simply continue to urge owners of the affected GM models to keep their seat belts fastened, and follow the automaker's instruction to detach the vehicle key from a key ring and use it on its own until such time as the defect is fixed by an authorized dealer.

Stay tuned for developments in this fascinating story ...

If you have lost a loved one in a car accident or suffered debilitating injuries that you believe can be attributed to a dangerous auto defect, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about how to protect and enforce your rights.

Source: The Detroit News, "Two senators want feds to force GM to warn recall owners," David Shepardson, April 28, 2014; Reuters, "U.S. senators ask federal agency to act on recalled GM cars," Richard Cowan, April 28, 2014

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