Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A person dies in a vehicle crash. Faulty components appear to be to blame. General Motors is eventually accused of knowing about the safety issues and doing nothing to correct them.
Yeah, it’s like the ignition-cylinder issue all over again.
This time, ongoing litigation claims that GM covered up problems with a steering sensor. The problems include a high rate of warranty claims and reports of a manufacturing flaw, yet GM never recalled the affected vehicles.
At least one death is alleged to have resulted from the failures. The problems appear to have began in 2007. Reuters has surfaced the results of an internal GM probe and documents that were submitted as part of litigation.
According to Reuters, the number of warranty claims involving the steering sensor is roughly equal to 10 percent of the SUVs that were manufactured while equipped with sensor in question. Those units were sold from 2006 to 2009. The industry standard for a rate for defects is generally considered to be around 1 percent.
About a half-million of the SUVs manufactured with the component in question remained on the road as of 2019. Court records show that the GM models that have the steering sensor are the 2006-2009 Trailblazer and GMC Envoy; 2006-2007 Buick Rainier; 2006-2009 Saab 9-7x; and 2006-2007 Isuzu Ascender.
Reuters reports that GM chose not to recall the vehicles after an internal investigation found that it wasn’t clear if the electronic stability control wasn’t working at the time of the fatal crash. The lawsuit alleges that the failure of the steering sensor led to the failure of the vehicle’s electronic stability control.
Furthermore, the investigation didn’t determine if the sensor itself was defective in the case of the crash.
The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration reviewed claims made by the attorney representing the widower of Glenda Marie Buchanan, the victim in the crash, but so far NHTSA has not opened an investigation. NHTSA has said it will take further action if required.
That attorney, Lance Cooper, was instrumental in digging up evidence in the ignition-switch debacle.
GM denies that the sensor failed in Buchanan’s case, and pins some blame on her for ignoring a warning light that indicated needed service for some time before the crash. The company also alleges Buchanan was texting shortly before she crashed, while driving on a winding road, and was also speeding 5-10 mph over the limit.
Furthermore, GM asserts that even if electronic stability control fails, a driver still has control over the vehicle and can steer and brake.
Cooper denies the allegation of texting, citing phone records. He notes the vehicle’s black box didn’t record her speed and says the road isn’t dangerous.
Under U.S. law automakers are required to notify regulators within five days of finding a vehicle defect that creates what’s called an unreasonable safety risk. That includes conditions that increase the chance of a crash, as well as a component that could harm drivers and passengers if it malfunctions. Makers are then required to recall the affected vehicles.
When it comes to failing to disclose a defect, criminal liability is limited, so prosecutors may pursue other avenues, such as an illegal coverup or other fraud.
The whole Reuters deep dive is worth a read, so give it a go.