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Criminal probe launched into GM's knowledge of ignition defect

Federal prosecutors have reportedly opened an investigation into General Motors to find out what the automaker knew about the ignition switch defect that prompted a recall earlier this year. According to a USA Today report, the probe could result in criminal charges being brought.

We highlighted in an earlier post that it was discovered that GM knew about the problem as early as 2004. Deposition testimony in a wrongful death suit revealed that engineers complained about the ignition key potentially switching from “run” to “accessory” by the weight of a heavy key ring. This was discovered even before the first Chevy Cobalts subject to the recall went on sale in 2005.

GM indicated that it sent a technical bulletin out to its dealers ostensibly indicating that if a customer complained about the issue, the dealer could install a simple cover to correct the issue. However, bulletin reportedly did not advise dealers to inform customers of the problem, and it likely did not warn consumers of the potential dangers associated with the switch.

While the Department of Justice has not released specific details surrounding the investigation, it is likely similar in scope to the probe into Japanese automaker Toyota in 2010 after it recalled hundreds of thousands of Camrys stemming from sudden acceleration problems.

In the meantime, GM has advised car owners to bring their vehicles to dealers to have the switches replaced. Before doing so, drivers should use the ignition key without a key ring that has attachments. While this is a necessary step to avoid future liability, it may still be subject to lawsuits stemming from past crashes. 

Source: USA “Feds open criminal probe of GM switch recall,” Fred Meier, James Healey and Todd Spangler, Mar. 11, 2014

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