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General Motors facing questions over defective products

When manufacturers discover product defects that could lead to harm or death, it is generally best to take action sooner rather than later. However, General Motors is facing questions from federal regulators about why it waited a decade to deal with ignition switch problems. In the interim, 13 deaths in more than 30 accidents have been linked to the problem in some of its models.

A Feb. 27 report in "USA Today" said that the defective product is the ignition switch, which can cause the engine to turn off if a driver has a heavy key chain or the ignition is jarred. When that happens, the car's front airbags can fail to deploy.

The GM models included in the recall of over a million vehicles in the U.S. alone are two Chevrolet and two Pontiac vehicles, as well as the Saturn Ion. The majority of fatal accidents involved the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5. The other five deaths occurred in Ions. The model years vary, but most were manufactured within the last decade.

Owners in Florida and other states are being instructed to bring their vehicles to the dealer to have the ignition switch replaced. Dealers are not replacing the switches until April. In the meantime, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is advising consumers to "use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring."

The NHTSA is also investigating why GM took so long to issue a recall. The safety agency noted that there are "legal processes and requirements for reporting recalls." Carmakers are required to notify NHTSA no more than five business days after they discover a safety issue. GM could be subject to a $35 million fine for this delay.

The NHTSA has promised to "monitor consumer outreach as the recall process continues and take additional appropriate action as warranted." GM says it plans to cooperate with federal regulators and they "welcome the opportunity to help the agency have a full understanding of the facts."

In the meantime, victims and families of those involved in accidents linked to the faulty ignition switches may choose to pursue civil litigation against the automaker. Often with cases of vehicle defects, plaintiffs use class-action suits to recover damages. Attorneys can advise consumers of the best way to proceed with civil litigation against a carmaker.

Source: USA Today, "U.S. investigates GM ignition recall timing" James R. Healy and Fred Meier, Feb. 27, 2014

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