NEW YORK – The death toll related to an ignition flaw in eight small-car models that General Motors sold a decade ago is likely to climb, say lawyers and safety advocates.
Automakers often increase fatality figures related to recalls as they unearth fresh information, while attorneys are racing to line up plaintiffs seeking compensation for alleged wrongful deaths or injury.
GM’s liabilities are also poised to rise as lawyers and safety advocates press the biggest U.S. automaker to pay restitution to victims even from before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization, which shielded the new GM from the old company’s liabilities.
GM, which said it had identified 13 deaths in connection with the recall of 1.6 million models made in the mid-2000s – including some Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs and other Opel, Pontiac and Saturn models – has said it continues to review data and information related to the recall. (GM produces the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra at its southwest Allen County truck plant.)
For every incident that gets reported to the automaker, there are usually nine or 10 more, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group in Washington.
You can expect the number of deaths associated with this recall to rise, he said.
That happened with Toyota. As allegations of unintended acceleration in some 2009 and 2010 vehicles generated publicity and congressional hearings, the number of deaths the government tied to 10 million recalled Toyota and Lexus models rose from a handful to at least 59. More wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed since the hearings ended.
The GM recall and the multiple U.S. investigations that it has spurred come as the company has sought to shed the Government Motors stigma tied to its $49.5 billion U.S. bailout.
The biggest risk to GM from the recall so far is reputational, Fitch Ratings Senior Director Stephen Brown wrote in a report Friday. The recall costs to fix vehicles may be less than $100 million and the fines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are capped at $35 million, he said. Costs for lawsuits and settlements are still unknown and may be a risk, he said.