Driven to Safety 2014

GM’s fatal ignition switch scandal has once again brought the issue of automobile safety to the forefront. Like so many previous cases, a lawsuit has uncovered what is an unfortunately recognizable pattern: an automobile manufacturer discovers a defective design, but refuses to fix it because it puts profits over people.

In the latest case, GM recalled more than 2.6 million cars because of ignition switches that had a defect that allowed them to slip from the “on” position to the “accessory” position, shutting off engines, power steering, and brakes, and disabling airbags. Incredibly, GM knew of the fatal ignition switch defect as far back as 2001, but decided not to fix it because it would have meant adding a 57 cent part to the cost of each car. The danger was finally exposed by a lawsuit brought by a driver’s family. At least 13 deaths have been linked to the defect, though consumer advocates believe that number may be higher.

Litigation will ultimately play a key role in identifying what went wrong in the most recent safety issue—the GM ignition switch debacle. These findings will aid regulators and legislators in protecting the American public in the future. By holding manufacturers accountable, the civil justice system will continue to protect Americans, while spurring generations of safety innovations, as it has done for more than half a century.