Apr 17 2014, 6:24pm CDT | by Forbes
General Motors Co. finally caught a break in a Texas court its ongoing ignition safety snafu.
GM has already been forced it to recall 2.6 million vehicles with defective ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths. The company expects the campaign will cost it $1.3 million. CEO Mary Barra was raked over the coals in Congress last week. And personal injury lawsuits are mounting.
Plaintiffs Charles and Grace Silvas, owners of a recalled 2006 Chevy Cobalt, sought a federal emergency order to force GM to tell its customers to stop driving all eight models involved in the recall.
But today U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, Texas, denied that unprecedented request. The judge is deferring to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which she says is better equipped to deal with the complex technical issues involved. Ramos notes that the Silvas haven’t made any attempt to get NHTSA to issue a “Park-It” order.
GM spokesman Greg Martin says the company is “pleased with the ruling.” The first replacement ignition parts are now on their way to dealers, and recall repairs are scheduled to begin next week.
The carmaker insists the recalled vehicles are safe to drive if consumers take everything off their key rings except car keys. With a heavily laden keychain, if one of those cars hit a bump, the defective ignition switch can turn off the engine and disable airbags and power brakes. That’s scary news for drivers in parts of the country where roads are riddled with potholes after a bad winter.
Bob Hilliard, the Silvas’ attorney, claims GM knows that “by winning this hearing, people will die or be seriously injured” in their defective vehicles.”
But the couple’s motion didn’t cite lofty claims about the public good. The Silvas sought the “Park-It” order to protect the resale value of their Cobalt and their personal safety if recalled cars aren’t taken off the road.
The automaker is still facing potentially huge damages in suits filed on behalf of people killed or injured because of defective ignition switches. Earlier this week, GM asked a federal court to shield it from liability in any accidents that occurred before it emerged from bankruptcy in mid-2009 as a new company.
Plaintiffs in other class-action case are demanding payouts for the resale value they say their vehicles have lost because of the recall. Typically, an automaker will settle such claims by offering owners a rebate on the purchase of one of its new vehicles.
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