It has been reported that at least 74 people have died in General Motors (GM) cars in accidents with some key similarities to those that GM has linked to 13 deaths involving defective ignition switches, as determined by a Reuters analysis of government fatal-crash data. Such accidents also occurred at a higher rate in the GM cars than in top competitors’ models, the analysis showed.
Reuters searched the Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS), a national database of crash information submitted by local law-enforcement agencies, for single-car frontal collisions where no front air bags deployed and the driver or front-seat passenger was killed.
The news agency compared the incidence of this type of deadly crash in the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, the highest-profile cars in GM’s recall of 2.6 million cars with defective switches, against the records of three popular small-car competitors: Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
The analysis found that the frequency of such accident in the Ion was nearly six times that of the Corolla and twice that of the Focus. The Ion had 5.9 such fatal crashes per 100,000 cars sold, followed by Cobalt, with 4.1, the Ford Focus with 2.9, the Civic with 1.6, and the Corolla with 1.0.
It is not clear how many of the deadly accidents identified by Reuters involved defective ignition switches, because crash reports typically do not include that data. That leaves open the possibility that air bags may have failed to deploy in some of the GM crashes for reasons other than faulty switches.
GM told Reuters it derived the tally of 13 deaths from claims and lawsuits filed against the automaker.
Reuters disclosed its findings in detail to GM and regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
GM declined to comment on Reuters’ findings, replying only that: “Our focus is on doing the right thing for customers – fixing the recalled vehicles as quickly as possible, addressing our civic and legal responsibilities and setting a new industry standard for safety.”
Acting NHTSA Administrator, David Friedman said: “The final death toll associated with this safety defect is not known to NHTSA, but we believe it’s likely that more than 13 lives were lost.”
Using the FARS database of crashes reported to U.S. safety regulators between 2003 and 2012, Reuters identified 45 front-seat fatalities in the Cobalt and 29 in the Ion. In similar crashes, there were 44 fatalities in the Ford Focus, 41 in the Honda Civic and 24 in the Toyota Corolla.
Reuters found the Focus had 43 fatal accidents, the Cobalt had 42, the Civic had 39, the Ion had 28 and the Corolla had 24. The rate of deadly crashes was higher in the two GM models, as the Ford, Honda and Toyota models sold in substantially greater numbers.
David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer explained that there were several limitations to the analysis, noting that, “while your analysis does focus on circumstances that are similar to the cases involving GM air bags that failed to deploy because of the ignition switch problem, it cannot be said definitively that the ignition switch problem” caused 74 deaths.
Zuby noted there are other reasons why air bags may not deploy in a frontal crash, such as a car sliding under a truck. Zuby also noted that an Insurance Institute study showed the FARS database overstated the problem of air bag non-deployments.
The fatalities entered in the FARS database and reviewed by Reuters do not include at least five of the 13 deaths acknowledged by GM. One died in 2013, past the range of the current FARS data, and two died in a multi-car accident.
Amber Marie Rose was killed in the July 2005 single-car crash of her 2005 Cobalt in Maryland. GM has confirmed that Rose is among the 13 victims, and investigators hired by NHTSA said her air bag did not deploy. But the FARS data indicates that the air bag did deploy and her death isn’t included in the Reuters count.
GM’s legal problems are only beginning. The number of actual deaths continues to climb as the investigation gets underway. We will keep you updated as information becomes available.
Feel free to contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878) for more information.