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Evans parents file suit against GM

Claim GM knew of car defect that caused 2009 crash

Posted: April 15, 2014 - 11:16pm

The parents of an Evans girl, who was severely injured in a car crash, recently filed a lawsuit against General Motors for not making efforts to repair a defect in her car that they say caused the 2009 wreck.

Bill and Lexie Van Pelt filed the federal lawsuit against the carmaker in U.S. District Court on Friday on behalf of their daughter, Haley.

On July 22, 2009, the high school band clarinet player was on her way to band camp at Greenbrier High School when she lost control of her 2003 Saturn Ion on Hardy McManus Road.

She over-corrected sending the car spinning down an embankment, where the driver side hit a tree.

In the lawsuit, they say a defective key system allowed the ignition in Haley’s car to easily be turned from the “run” to the ‘“accessory/off” position causing it to lose power, steering and braking capabilities.

Haley, now 21, sustained life-threatening injuries including two skull fractures and a brain injury. She was in critcial condition for about two weeks before being transferred to the Atlanta-based Shepherd Center. She returned home to Evans just shy of her 18th birthday on Oct. 25, 2009.

“As a result of the engine shutting off, Haley lost control of the Saturn Ion, traveled off the road and collided with a tree,” according to the lawsuit. “The safety-related defects in the Ion caused the airbags in Haley’s car not to deploy.”

Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said the ignition was not examined at the time of the wreck, making it likely impossible to confirm the ignition switched off.

But according to photos taken of the car at the scene and the sheriff’s office accident report, the air bags in Haley’s did not deploy.

Since the wreck, Haley has incurred more than $1 million in medical bills and the lawsuit contends that Haley’s medical bills are expected to surpass that many time over throughout her life.

Ignition switch defects are at the center of a congressional subcommittee’s investigation into how GM handled safety issues.

GM has admitted knowing about the switch problem for more than a decade but failed to recall the cars until February.

Safety-related defects – the low position of the ignition on the steering column, the low amount of force needed to turn the ignition and the slot design, which allows the key and ring to hang low – allow the ignition to be inadvertently turned to the “off/accessory” position while driving.

The lawsuit cites numerous similar fatal crashes involving faulty key switches in GM’s Chevrolet Cobalts beginning in 2005.

GM issued a recall on Feb. 7 regarding the ignition switches on 2005-2007 Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5s. On Feb. 24, the recall was expanded to include 2003-2007 Saturn Ion and Sky and 2005-2006 Chevrolet HHR.

The recall was expanded again on March 28 to include all model years of the Cobalt, HHR, Pontiac G5 and Solstice and the Ion and Sky totaling 2,191,146 vehicles with potentially dangerous defective ignition switches.

“Throughout this entire time period, GM was selling the defective vehicles to consumers for full price, and consumers were purchasing them believing that the vehicles were non-defective, but all the while GM was concealing the extent and nature of the defects in the defective vehicles,” according to the lawsuit.

“Not only is GM’s recall ten years too late, especially for Haley and the Plaintiffs, it remains completely insufficient to correct the safety-related defects in the defective vehicles.”

The Van Pelts are accusing GM on several counts including racketeering, for knowingly concealing and not taking steps to correct the potentially dangerous ignition defect from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and consumers as well as negligence and fraud.

“The Van Pelts would not have purchased the Saturn Ion had they known of the key system defects, and certainly would not have continued to drive it, and would not have allowed Haley to drive it, once they learned of these defects,” according to the lawsuit. “But for GM’s willful, malicious, fraudulent and racketeering conduct William Van Pelt would not have provided the defective Saturn Ion to his teenage daughter.”

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