A Texas lawyer on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against General Motors Co. on behalf of 658 people who the law firm alleges either died or were injured due to the automaker’s ignition switch defect.
The lawsuit comes just days before independent compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg is to begin accepting claims for families of people who died or were injured tied to the faulty ignition switch.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court Southern District of New York and lists families of 29 people who died in vehicles allegedly tied to an ignition switch defect and another 629 injured. The plaintiffs are suing for wrongful death or injury in accidents that occurred after GM emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009.
“At any given moment, an ignition switch in a wide variety of General Motors vehicles could fail, killing or maiming countless individuals,” according to the complaint.
GM spokesman Jim Cain would not comment on the lawsuit. The company has acknowledged 13 deaths related to the defective ignition switches.
“We want to do the right thing for the people who were physically injured or lost a loved one as a result of an ignition switch issue in a Cobalt or one the other recalled small cars,” Cain said in an email. “They should file a compensation claim, and Mr. Feinberg will independently evaluate them beginning on August 1.”
The law firm said plaintiffs may not qualify for the GM compensation program. The program is specific only to vehicles involved in GM's recall of 2.59 million vehicles.
GM earlier this year recalled 2.59 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars for ignition switches that can move out of the “run” position while driving, causing the car to lose power, power steering and in crashes air bags may not deploy. GM has said the defect is linked to 54 crashes and 13 deaths.
Bob Hilliard, the Corpus Christi, Texas, lawyer who filed the lawsuit, has long said that the defect is linked to many more crashes, deaths and injuries. The lawsuit includes crashes in more than the initial group of cars GM recalled for ignition switch issues, including numerous other nameplates GM has recalled this year for ignition problems.
A compensation program for victimswill begin taking claims Friday. GM last week estimated that the fund may cost the company $400 million but said it could grow to $600 million. GM said Feinberg has ultimate say in who is eligible for claims and also the ultimate fund size.