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Judge delays GM safety decision

Plaintiffs seek do-not-drive order for recalled cars

– A federal judge in Texas said she would consider arguments made Friday and will await additional information before she decides whether to grant an emergency injunction that could force General Motors to tell owners of more than 2 million cars with a defective ignition to not drive them until repaired.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said she had not had time to thoroughly read a new brief by the plaintiffs filed shortly before the hearing. About 40 people listened to more than two hours of arguments and testimony.

A flawed ignition switch in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars allows the key to turn from the “run” position to the “accessory” position, causing the loss of power steering, power brakes and airbags.

GM has admitted to knowing the switches were defective for at least a decade, but it didn’t start recalling the vehicles until February.

The Detroit automaker has linked the faulty ignition switch to 13 deaths; others, including the families of some victims, say there have been more.

On Wednesday, GM CEO Mary Barra told a Senate subcommittee that owners can continue safely using the cars if precautions are taken.

GM’s truck assembly plant in southwest Allen County produces the Silverado and the GMC Sierra.

On Friday, holding a steering wheel and ignition for the judge to see, plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Hilliard described a defect that could occur at any time in cars marketed to “newly minted drivers.”

“There is no safe way to drive this vehicle at all because of the unknown event that has to occur for the defect to show up,” Hilliard said.

He pointed to the portion of GM’s recall notice that said there was a risk if “your vehicle experiences rough road conditions or other jarring or impact related events.”

Hilliard scrolled through photographs of the victims projected onto a large screen in the courtroom and spoke of youth lost. He called witnesses who testified about accidents or close calls in their vehicles.

One was Jesse Hernandez, 23, who survived a crash that killed his twin brother in a red 2007 Saturn Ion in April 2012. He said he had fallen asleep while his brother was driving. Their car hit a guardrail and flipped three times. The airbags did not deploy.

“He ended up dying in my arms moments later,” Hernandez testified.

Laura Valle of Corpus Christi said she did as instructed and removed everything except the key, but her car still suddenly lost power while she was driving to Wal-Mart in March.

“The car just died on me,” Valle testified.

Hilliard implored the judge to force GM to do more. He proposed a “Do Not Drive” sticker that would be plastered on every vehicle until it was repaired.

But David Balser, a lawyer for GM, called the measure Hilliard was asking the judge to take “unprecedented.” He said he knew of no court that had ordered such a move while a recall was underway.

“It would cause mass confusion to GM’s consumers,” he said. “It would create chaos.”

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