Lawyer, senators try to ‘ground’ recalled GM cars – USA TODAY
Pressure is increasing on General Motors to tell owners of 2.5 million recently recalled U.S. vehicles that they are unsafe and should be parked immediately.
Texas personal injury lawyer Robert Hilliard, suing GM over the recall, plans to ask a federal judge on Friday to order GM to tell owners emphatically that the recalled cars should not be driven until their ignition switches are replaced under the recall.
That dramatic and extraordinary move could leave GM scrambling to find 2.5 million temporary vehicles for the owners to drive.
And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., emailed constituents Thursday asking them to sign a petition demanding that GM get the cars off the road. The email included a video of Blumenthal and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., emphasizing the dangers and telling GM to act forcefully and promptly.
Blumenthal on March 27 had sent a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra asking for a stronger GM warning about the recalled cars’ safety. At that time, 1.6 million cars had been recalled.
Ignition switches in the recalled cars might move out of the “run” position while underway, shutting off the engine, cutting power assist to the steering and brakes and possibly preventing front airbags from inflating in a crash.
GM has linked the flaw to 12 deaths in 31 crashes in the U.S. and to one fatal crash in Canada.
Barra said at a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday that the recalled Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs, Saturn Ions and other small cars are completely safe if the driver has nothing hanging from the ignition key.
Barra said she’d allow her teenage son to drive one of the cars that hasn’t had the recall repairs, if he used only the ignition key, with nothing attached.
Barra also told the Senate panel that if “there was any risk, I would ground these vehicles across the country.”
Hilliard sent Barra a letter Thursday demanding, “Ground every recalled vehicle and do to it now.”
He included an affidavit from Laura Valle, who owns a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the cars recalled. She describes removing all keys and driving with just the original-equipment ignition key — but experiencing a frightening stall on a busy city street in March. She was not hurt.
Hilliard’s letter to Barra adds, “I also have others who, like Mrs. Valle, took everything off of their key because the recall letter told them to, and subsequently experienced a complete loss of power when their key went to the aux. position.”
Neither GM nor a judge can force individuals to quit driving their cars. But the judge can order GM to tell owners emphatically to quit driving.
GM already has agreed to pay for rental cars, or loaner cars from dealers, for owners of recalled models anxious about driving until the recall is performed.
GM has provided about 13,000 temporary cars so far. If it must come up with another 2 million or so, the logistics become monumentally more difficult and expensive.
Recall repairs are to begin next week, and could take months to complete.
Barra said GM recently tested the cars at its proving grounds and wasn’t able to make the switch move unexpectedly even under extraordinary conditions.
GM says that the tests included significant jarring, including running over a median strip four inches tall as fast as 50 mph, and racing across railroad tracks at 70 mph.
The automaker had said in previous warnings that jarring, especially when the key ring is heavily laden, could cause the switch to move unexpectedly.
Hilliard’s request to require GM to “ground” the cars is scheduled for hearing on Friday afternoon in federal court in Corpus Christi, Texas, in front of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.