Product Liability

Texas woman blamed for fiancé’s car crash death sues GM after it admits link to ignition switch defect

GM logo Texas woman blamed for fiancé’s car crash death sues GM after it admits link to ignition switch defectCandice Anderson, the Texas woman who was tried and convicted for killing her fiancé in a 2004 crash has filed a lawsuit against General Motors (GM) after discovering the automaker knew all along its ignition switch defect caused the crash.

In Nov. 2004, Ms. Anderson was driving her 2004 Saturn Ion in Canton, Texas, with her fiancé Mikale Erickson when she lost control of the vehicle upon entering a slight curve in the road. The car left the road and crashed into a tree, throwing both driver and passenger through the windshield.

Because the crash occurred in a rural part of Texas, an hour passed before someone discovered and reported it. Meanwhile, Mr. Erickson, the father of two small children, died of his crash injuries on the scene. Ms. Anderson was critically injured but survived.

While she was recovering, Ms. Anderson was charged with manslaughter for her fiancé’s death. Authorities could find no reasons why the car would have crashed, so they blamed the driver. Ms. Anderson, distraught over the crash and believing she was to blame, pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide. She was sentenced to five years’ probation, 260 hours community service, and a lifetime of inconsolable guilt. On top of all that, she was ordered to pay for her fiancé’s funeral and $3,500 in court costs.

“Despite knowing the defective vehicle was at fault, GM aggressively defended the civil law suit brought by Mikale’s two young children, his mom and Candice,” Ms. Anderson’s lawyer said in a news release. “In Court documents GM placed 100 percent of the blame on a 21-year-old innocent girl and ended up paying $75,000.00 to settle the entire case.”

Last month, nearly a decade since the 2004 crash, Mr. Erickson’s mother, Rhonda Erickson, learned that GM counted her son’s death as one of the 13 fatalities it linked to its faulty ignition switches. The defect allows the car keys to jostle around inside the switch, which could turn the ignition to “off” or “accessory,” thereby cutting power to the power steering, anti-lock brakes and airbags.

GM knew of the problem for more than 10 years, but failed to warn its customers or issue a recall. Not until February 2014, after evidence emerged in another wrongful death lawsuit proving GM had longstanding knowledge of the defect, did the company start recalling its affected vehicles. That recall now encompasses 2.6 million vehicles.

Now, just this week, GM has announced it will recall an additional 3.4 million midsize and large cars for the same ignition switch defect. Like earlier recalls, the ignition switch in these vehicles may move from the “run” position to the “off” or “accessory” position, disabling power steering and brakes during operation, also possibly deactivating the airbags. GM says it is aware of eight crashes and six injuries related to this latest recall.

Ms. Erickson said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has confirmed that her son’s death is one of the fatalities GM blames on the ignition switch defect. She told CBS News that the automaker has never apologized for Mikale’s death.

Meanwhile, Ms. Anderson has asked a federal judge in Tyler, Texas, to throw out the original settlement. She and Mrs. Erickson, who is also a party to the lawsuit against GM, are seeking unspecified punitive and exemplary damages.

GM is now facing a Congressional inquiry into its handling of the ignition switch defect and subsequent recall. The federal government has already fined GM $35 million for its failure to handle the recall in a timely manner, the largest civil penalty allowed by law. GM CEO Mary Barra is set to testify before Congress Wednesday to answer questions following an independent investigation into the company’s conduct.

Sources:

Associated Press
CNBC
Bloomberg