* GM has recalled 2.6 mln vehicles for faulty ignition
* Regulators, not courts, should address recall questions -
* GM says cars are safe to drive if no extra weight on keys
(Adds background, paragraphs 9-12)
By Jessica Dye
April 17 A federal judge on Thursday rejected a
bid to compel General Motors Co to tell customers to stop
driving millions of cars that have been recalled for defective
Attorneys representing Charles and Grace Silvas, the owners
of a recalled 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt, had sought an emergency
order directing GM to issue "park it now" notices for the 2.6
million vehicles that have been recalled since February over the
switches. The notices would have told owners that the cars were
too dangerous to remain on the road.
GM opposed the motion, arguing that the vehicles were safe
to drive as long as nothing extra was attached to the key while
it was in the ignition.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi,
Texas, denied the request in a ruling on Thursday, saying that
she would defer to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, a federal agency that oversees auto safety.
"The court is of the opinion that NHTSA is far better
equipped than this court to address the broad and complex issues
of automotive safety and the regulation of automotive companies
in connection with the nationwide recall," Ramos wrote.
A spokesman for GM, Greg Martin, said the company respected
the court's decision.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Robert Hilliard of Hilliard
Munoz Gonzales, called it a "sad day for tomorrow's victim."
"Unfortunately at GM, when profits come up against morality,
profits seldom lose," he said in a statement.
The ruling averts a potentially costly ramp-up in GM's
recall efforts. The company has started to ship replacement
switches to dealerships, but it has not instructed customers to
stop driving the cars. Its website advises customers that it is
"very important" to remove additional weight, like fobs, from
the key ring, and to make sure the vehicle is in park before
GM's website also advises consumers about the risk that
switches could also malfunction if the vehicle "experiences
rough road conditions or other jarring or impact related
Some have questioned whether the recall does enough to
protect customers from the ignition switch risks. U.S. Senator
Richard Blumenthal last month echoed the request for a "park it
now" notice, saying that customers should "verify, and do not
trust, these recalled cars," according to a March 28 statement.
Last week, GM announced it was taking a higher-than-expected
charge of $1.3 billion in the first quarter, primarily to cover
the cost of recall-related repairs and courtesy transportation,
compared with a previously announced $750 million charge.
At least 13 deaths in Saturn Ions, Chevrolet Cobalts and
other models have been linked to the faulty ignition switches,
which are prone to being bumped or jostled into accessory mode
while cars are still moving. That can shut off engines and
disable power steering, power brakes and airbags.
The company is facing numerous lawsuits over the vehicles,
on behalf of individuals injured or killed in crashes or
customers who say their cars lost value as a result of the
Plaintiffs in those cases have accused GM of knowing about
the defect for at least a decade, but failing to recall cars
until this year. GM has apologized and said it is moving as
quickly as it can to replace the switches.
The case is Silvas v. General Motors, U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of Texas, No. 14-89.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; editing by Matthew
Lewis, Bernard Orr)