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Insights from the General Motors Ignition Recall Report

Tina Robinson2 years ago

Perhaps the most crucial insight gained from the General Motors report released last week was that ignition switch failure could cause airbags to deactivate. That key piece of information was misunderstood by engineers and eventually led to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes. According to the New York Times, that disconnect between mechanical details and decision makers is a fundamental problem with management.

Customer Convenience vs. Safety

The GM report, a 315-page document compiled by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, highlights more than a decade of inaction regarding defective ignition switches. Although the problem with the switch was known as early as 2001, the problem was incorrectly classified as one of customer convenience and not safety.

The switch was intentionally designed to prevent airbag deployment for passengers sitting in parked cars. In 2001, a memo from engineer Jim Sewell noted that if ignition power is lost, the sensing diagnostic module, which determines if the airbags deploy, would also be shut off. Still, for more than a decade, GM and safety regulators would fail to link the defective switches and airbag failures.

One of the biggest reasons for that failure to correctly understand the problem is that key information was not communicated across departments. In her April testimony before Congress, CEO Mary Barra referred to “silos of communication” that existed within the company culture; senior executives were intentionally isolated from safety decisions.

About the GM Ignition Recall

Since February, GM has recalled about 2.6 million older compact cars due to defective ignition switches. The faulty switches can easily move out of the “run” position, resulting in engine stalls and loss of safety features such as airbags and power steering. Although GM has acknowledged only 13 fatalities, independent analysis of crash data and safety regulators suggest that number is an undercount.

The recall affects the following models:

The GM ignition recall has spawned numerous two Congressional investigations, criminal investigations, and numerous lawsuits. In May, the automaker was fined $35 million for failing to recall the vehicles for over a decade.

Victims’ Compensation

Thomas J. Henry is representing more than 1,000 GM recall victims across the United States and has been investigating injuries and deaths linked to the recall since day one. The firm launched a nationwide media investigation into the recall in April, which brought forth thousands of affected individuals who had information critical to the investigation – information that the firm has handed over to federal agencies also investigating GM’s sluggish response the recall. As more and more individuals have flocked to Thomas J. Henry for representation, the firm has continued to push GM for a victim settlement fund. The firm has had several talks with GM’s victim compensation expert Ken Feinberg regarding appropriate victim compensation for the thousands affected by a fatal design flaw in ignition switches which left numerous dead and countless others seriously injured. 


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