* Lawsuit filed in California against U.S. subsidiary
* Continental made airbags for recalled cars
* Continental says systems meet customers' requirements
(Adds Continental AG statement)
By Jessica Dye
April 18 Plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking to draw
Continental Automotive Systems U.S., the maker of airbag systems
in recalled General Motors Co vehicles, into litigation
over an ignition-switch defect that has been linked to 13
A lawsuit filed on Wednesday in federal court in California
is the first to name Continental, a subsidiary of German
automotive supplier Continental AG, in a growing wave
of litigation over GM's recall, which has so far encompassed 2.6
Continental made airbag systems for the recalled cars,
including sensors that determine if and when the airbags go off
in an accident, according to the suit.
The case is among dozens of proposed class actions that have
been filed by customers accusing GM of concealing its knowledge
of the defect for more than a decade, putting plaintiffs at risk
of injury and causing them to suffer economic losses on their
cars, including lower resale value.
If jostled or bumped, the ignition switch can change from
the "run" to "accessory" position, shutting off engines and
disabling power steering, power brakes and airbags.
The California lawsuit says that Continental's system was
defective because the airbag system would shut off when the key
switched positions, and the combination of alleged defects was
"particularly dangerous", the complaint said.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Adam Levitt of Grant &
Eisenhofer, said that Continental appears to have known about
the ignition defect as early as 2005, after it met with GM to
investigate a crash involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.
"Continental did nothing to redesign its airbags so that
they would deploy even if the car's power went out, nor did it
warn NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
or the public," Levitt said in a statement Thursday.
The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, David Friedman, told a congressional panel
earlier this month that NHTSA investigators were surprised to
learn that airbags in the recalled GM cars did not deploy when
the key is in the accessory or off position. He said his agency
was conducting an industry-wide look at the computer algorithm
which is programmed into the airbag sensor.
Continental said on Friday that it had not seen the suit so
could not comment on its details.
"Our systems meet global technology standards and entirely
fulfil the exact specifications of our customers," the company
said in an emailed statement.
A spokeswoman told Reuters on April 7 that it is a "global
industry practice that the airbags do not deploy if the ignition
is in the off position."
GM spokesman Greg Martin declined to comment. The company
has previously apologized for the switch problems and said it is
working to replace the faulty parts.
Continental is not the first GM supplier to be drawn into
litigation over the recall. Delphi Automotive, which
produced the ignition switch, is a defendant in several
lawsuits, although it is not named in the Los Angeles case.
The case is Saclo v. General Motors, U.S. District Court for
the Central District of California, No. 14-604.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Additional reporting by
Eric Beech in Washingon and Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt; editing
by Ken Wills and Jason Neely)