The fatal incident occurred in Texas in 2004, when the driver’s Saturn Ion veered off the road and collided with a tree. The driver ended up with broken bones, while her boyfriend in the passenger seat died as a result of his injuries.
The police determined at the time that the driver took no evasive action because they found no evidence of skid marks. Convinced she was at fault, the driver entered a guilty plea to charges of criminally negligent homicide.
The dead boyfriend’s family filed a civil complaint against GM, ultimately settling for $75,000.
But both the guilty plea and the settlement were made before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ultimately determined that this crash was the result of the ignition switch defect in Saturn Ions, Chevy Cobalts and other GM vehicles. The plaintiffs’ lawyer says that NHTSA recently confirmed the involvement of the defect in this crash to the late passenger’s mother.
Both the driver and the family of the deceased have filed suit in a U.S. District Court in Texas, seeking to reopen the previous settlement.
“GM knew, from day one, that it was responsible,” says their lawyer. “Yet, even though GM knew [the driver] was innocent, it said nothing and watched her be indicted, watched as she was forced to plead guilty to a crime she did not commit.”
Documents turned up by the ongoing investigations into the ignition switch defect show that some people at GM knew about the problem as far back as 2001, before the first of the defective Saturn Ions hit the market.
The car company continued to use these switches for several years, until the engineer responsible for sourcing this part quietly asked the vendor to fix the flaw. However, the part number was never changed, making it impossible to distinguish the old defective switches from the improved parts.