At least 13 people have died because 10 major automakers concealed the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in more than five million vehicles equipped with keyless ignitions, a new class-action lawsuit claims.
Twenty-eight consumers filed a class-action lawsuit [PDF] against the automakers in Los Angeles federal court on Wednesday, accusing the companies of failing to inform buyers of a “deadly defect” associated with keyless ignition switches.
According to the lawsuit, keyless ignitions – which allow drivers to start a vehicle by simply pushing an on/off button instead of inserting a key – are marketed as the ultimate driving convenience, but the “so-called convenience has produced deadly consequences in the absence of adequate safeguards” from manufacturers.
Automakers named in the suit include BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz, as well as several of their brands such as, Infiniti, Kia, Acura and others.
The alleged defect occurs because consumers mistakenly believe that removing the keyless fob from the vehicle’s vicinity turns off the engine, which isn’t the case.
The suit claims that for nearly 5 million vehicles, the engine will continue to run, no matter how far away the driver and the keyless fob are from the car.
Because the vehicles continue to run, they emit carbon monoxide, creating an environment that can injure or have “deadly” results for people who inhale the colorless or odorless gas.
“In a number of incidents, drivers have parked their affected vehicles inside their garages and removed the keyless fobs, only to later discover that the engines never actually turned off,” the suit states. “As a result, deadly carbon monoxide— often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because it is a colorless, odorless gas — can fill enclosed spaces and spread to the attached homes.”
As a result, the suit claims, at least 13 documented deaths and many injuries requiring hospitalization have occurred.
“Those injured by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the defect include drivers, their families, other occupants of the residence where the vehicle is left running in a garage, neighbors, and first responders,” the suit states.
According to the suit, the automakers have long known about the risk keyless ignitions pose. In fact, the suit claims, that at least 27 complaints have been submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2009.
Instead of addressing the potential dangers, the companions continued to market the devices as safe.
The issue could easily be remedied, the plaintiffs claim, if automakers would simply install a feature to automatically turn off unattended engines after a certain period of time.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status and an injunction requiring automakers to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future vehicles sold with keyless ignitions. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
A spokesperson for Ford tells Reuters that the company takes customer safety “very seriously” and that keyless systems have been proven to be “safe and reliable.”
BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota declined to comment to Reuters, while the other automakers had an immediate comment.