THE GM RECALL

GM lists more Cobalt, Ion fatalities in quarterly crash data

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Editor's note: The first version of this story transposed the number of deaths and injuries listed for the Saturn Ion. GM in the first quarter reported two deaths the 31 injuries for the vehicle.

In the first quarter, General Motors received claims that defects in the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion caused 17 deaths and 167 injuries, according to data it submitted to federal safety regulators.

The disclosures do not link directly to the company’s recalls for faulty ignition switches, but they suggest that the pool of potential victims could expand.

The Cobalt accounted for 126 separate claims, more than any other GM nameplate. Overall, GM notified NHTSA of 505 new death and injury claims for the period from January through March relating to 37 deaths and 604 injuries. That compares with 377 claims submitted by Toyota Motor Corp., 162 by Ford Motor Co. and six by American Honda through NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting system.

The Cobalt incidents date as far back as February 2009, though most are for crashes that occurred in 2014. It’s unclear which claims were submitted after GM began recalling 2.6 million Cobalts, Ions and other small cars for faulty ignition switches on Feb. 13. The data was posted online by NHTSA today.

GM received 187 claims related to the nameplates covered by the ignition switch recall, compared with 54 claims for those same vehicles in the fourth quarter. The total number of claims increased from 413.

Of the 187 first-quarter claims related to vehicles covered by the ignition-switch recall, 126 cited unspecified electrical problems and 117 cited a possible airbag defect. Some of the claims can overlap because they can each list up to three categories of defects.

All but 27 of the claims involve vehicles from the 2005-07 model years -- those built before the faulty switch was redesigned.

The reports do not include further detail about what happened or the perceived defect. If NHTSA is interested in more specifics about a particular crash, it can ask GM to provide that information.

A GM spokesman had no immediate comment on the reports today.

GM says the ignition switch in the recalled cars can slip out of the “run” position, an event that turns off the engine, cuts power steering and brake assist, and disables the airbags during a subsequent crash. It has linked the defect to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

GM has hired lawyer Kenneth Feinberg to administer a compensation fund for people killed or injured in crashes caused by the ignition switch flaw. GM announced Feinberg’s hiring on April 1, the day after the first quarter ended, and the program will begin accepting claims Aug. 1.

The claims cover 15 deaths and 136 injuries in Cobalts, two deaths and 31 injuries in Ions, and three deaths and 32 injuries in Chevrolet HHRs. The Saturn Sky and Pontiac G5 and Solstice were involved in seven injuries but no fatalities.

The death claims include a June 2013 crash in Quebec that Canadian officials said was linked to the ignition switch defect and a December 2013 crash in Alabama that killed the daughter of a former GM employee. Both families have filed suit against GM.

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter

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