* Lawsuit filed on behalf of three teenage girls injured or
killed in 2006 crash
* Lawsuit accuses company of concealing ignition defect
* GM facing numerous lawsuits stemming from recall
By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, March 24 General Motors Co has
been hit with what is believed to be the first wrongful death
lawsuit over ignition switch problems since it recalled 1.6
million vehicles in February.
The lawsuit was filed late on Friday in Minnesota state
court on behalf of three teenage girls who were severely injured
or killed in a 2006 crash involving a 2005 Chevy Cobalt, one of
the models GM recalled over ignition problems.
GM announced the recall in February, despite learning of
problems with the ignition switch in 2001 and issuing related
service bulletins to dealers with suggested remedies in 2005. GM
has apologized for how it handled the recall.
The lawsuit accuses GM of knowing about the defect for a
decade but failing to take steps to fix the vehicles or get them
off the roads.
"GM hid this dangerous, life-threatening defect from my
clients and all other Cobalt drivers for over a decade just to
avoid the cost of a recall," said a lawyer for the families,
Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, in a statement.
"GM is guilty of betraying our trust."
A spokesman for GM, Jim Cain, said the company would respond
to the lawsuit in due course. "Right now, our biggest focus is
on getting these vehicles recalled as quickly as we can with as
little inconvenience to customers as possible."
According to the lawsuit, the Chevy Cobalt's ignition switch
suddenly turned from the "run" to "accessory" position, causing
the steering, breaking and airbag systems to lose power. The
car's driver, 19-year-old Megan Phillips, lost control of the
car, which careened off the road and struck a telephone junction
box and two trees, the lawsuit said.
The crash killed Amy Rademaker, 15, and Natasha Weigel, 18,
and caused Phillips to sustain severe injuries to her brain and
body, according to the lawsuit.
The surviving family members of Rademaker and Weigel, as
well as Phillips, are each seeking more than $50,000, said
The 2006 accident occurred before GM's 2009 bankruptcy
filing. The so-called new GM, a different legal entity from the
"old" GM, is not responsible under the terms of its bankruptcy
exit for accidents or incidents arising before July 2009. Those
claims must be brought against what remains of the
The lawsuit, however, names new GM as a defendant.
GM has faced several lawsuits in the wake of the recall. It
has been hit with at least five proposed class actions by
customers who say their vehicles lost value. On Friday, the
company also was sued by an investor who said the recalls wiped
billions of dollars in value off of GM shares.
GM has said it received reports of 12 deaths and 34 crashes
in the recalled cars. The recall has prompted investigations by
federal prosecutors and regulators, and GM has opened its own
internal investigation. Congress also is planning to hold
hearings over the recall.
(Editing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis)