(DETROIT) - General Motors knew of scores of complaints about faulty ignition switches 10 years before it finally issued a recall to correct the dangerous defect.
The revelation comes the same day that the U.S. Attorney in New York opened a criminal investigation into what GM knew about the dangerous defect, and a day after a congressional committee launched a probe of its own.
"At the end of the day, you've got a company that knew about a problem with its product, and decided not to resolve it and not to recall the product," said automotive safety expert Sean Kane.
He and scores of others say GM waited too long to recall more than 1.6 million vehicles, including the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion. The recall surrounds faulty ignition switches that cause the engine to shut down, disabling airbags and power steering. According to court records, GM was aware of problems as early as 2004--the same year the Cobalt was introduced.
"This has been a strong pattern of reported complaints by consumers from the very get-go," Kane said.
"Driving down the road, the car suddenly shuts off in the middle of traffic, in the middle of the highway, with oncoming cars. These are all scenarios that are recipes for disaster. In some cases, they did result in disasters."
One of them involved 29-year-old Brooke Melton. The Georgia woman died in March 2010 after the ignition in her 2006 Cobalt switched from "run" to "accessory," causing the the engine to shut off. Her family sued GM, and reached a settlement in 2013.
But before the suit was over, lawyers took depositions of GM officials that revealed that the company knew of the problems for years.
One complaint from 2005 came from the mother of a young man whose Cobalt was stalling two to three times a week, each time his knee hit the ignition. The mother said she was afraid her son would be killed and wanted GM to take the vehicle back.
"How many people need to die," she asked in the complaint, "for this issue to be a recall?"
Regenia Paige has driven her Chevy Cobalt for three years and says she's afraid to be driving it today. Paige has been avoiding highways so, if the worst does happen, she won't be traveling at a high speed.
She said she'll have to wait at least another month before the new fix will be ready for her vehicle.
"I'm very disappointed in the company," Paige said. "They said their customer services is paramount and apparently it's not."
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