Ben Pillars told Bloomberg News that he always wondered why his wife’s Pontiac Grand Am veered across a Michigan highway on a winter day in 2005, putting her into the path of an oncoming Toyota minivan. The crash sent his wife into a coma from which she never emerged, and she died in March 2012, taking with her any information that could have helped solve the mystery of her accident.
But Mr. Pillars found answers when General Motors announced its ignition switch recall last year, which encompassed millions of vehicles, eventually including his wife’s 2005 Grand Am.
GM first recalled 2.59 million smaller vehicles for an ignition switch defect that potentially allowed the key to jostle around inside the switch and turn the ignition off with the car in motion, resulting in a loss of power steering, anti-lock brakes, and airbag protection while making the vehicle hard to control.
GM later expanded the recall to include an additional 10 million vehicles after it found a similar defect in the ignition switches of several larger model cars, including the Grand Am that Mr. Pillars’s wife drove.
He suspected the ignition switch defect caused his wife’s car crash. An image of her Grand Am taken after the collision confirmed his suspicions; it clearly showed the ignition switched turned to the off position – a detail investigators found insignificant at the time.
“It eased my mind that it wasn’t her fault,” Mr. Pillars told Bloomberg. “She didn’t have a chance in that car.”
Mr. Pillars took the next logical step and submitted a claim to GM’s ignition switch victims’ compensation fund. His claim was rejected, leaving him and dozens of others in his position to wonder why GM’s fund compensates for injuries and deaths caused in crashes involving some of its recalled cars but not others.
According to Bloomberg, GM says the flawed ignition switches in the 10 million vehicles covered by the later recall are “ineligible for compensation because the company recalled the cars immediately after discovering the flaw and because employees made no efforts to keep it under wraps.”
GM also declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2008 and emerged from it as the “New GM” in July 2009, effectively shielding it from liability for ignition-switch crashes that occurred before its bankruptcy filing. Despite GM’s promise to right its wrongs, it has made no provisions to help those excluded from compensation – a group that includes more than a dozen deaths and about 100 injuries.
To date, GM’s compensation fund has agreed to payouts for 119 deaths and 243 injuries. But the fund is set to close in a few weeks, with no relief in sight to those excluded from justice simply because of GM’s past negligence and poor judgement.
“I believe now more than ever that all of the injuries and deaths caused by defective ignition switches in GM cars should be covered by the compensation fund,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal told Bloomberg. “All of those other models suffered from an eerily and strikingly similar malfunction that caused death and casualties. There’s no logical or factual reasons that those victims should be excluded.”