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SOURCE MLG Automotive Law
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., May 21, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- MLG Automotive Law, APLC filed a wrongful death lawsuit against General Motors today for concealing an ignition switch defect that killed 20-year-old Ben Hair. Ben was killed when he lost control of his 2007 Pontiac G5 while traveling down an isolated Virginia road on a Sunday afternoon, hitting a tree at 50 mph. The accident occurred two weeks before his 21st birthday and just 12 days before Christmas.
An Eagle Scout at the age of 16 and an only child, Ben was a competitive USA swimmer whose life ambition was to follow his father's career path of becoming a Doctor of Pharmacy. At the time of his death, Ben had just graduated from Virginia Tech and was enrolled in pharmacy school.
Ben's Pontiac G5 was one of the 2.5 million vehicles recalled by GM in February for an ignition switch defect. When the ignition switch fails, the car suddenly powers down, and cuts off the power steering, power brakes and air bags.
In April, GM chief executive Mary Barra was summoned to testify on Capitol Hill, where a Congressional Subcommittee found that GM had known of the defect since 2001, and concealed it for 13 years. Barra's testimony also revealed that GM did not install a redesigned version of the part because it would cost an additional $0.57 per unit. Last week, federal regulators fined GM $35 million, the maximum allowable under the law, for failing to report the defect.
At the time, Ben's accident was a mystery to investigators. There were no skid marks, no other vehicles involved, no sign of distress and the airbags did not deploy. The car simply left the road for no apparent reason and hit a tree without braking. The accident occurred two miles from Ben's home, on a road that he had driven nearly every day for five years.
Nine months after the accident, Ben's parents received a recall notice from GM that the power steering unit on Ben's Pontiac G5 was prone to failure. The Hairs immediately contacted GM and asked that it investigate the accident. Despite being given written notice that the car was available for inspection, GM made no effort to inspect or preserve the vehicle. Instead, GM met with its engineers, and then, weeks later, sent the Hairs an email denying the claim. When the Hairs asked to see the results of the investigation, GM refused.
The Hairs allege that they have now discovered that Ben's vehicle contained an Event Data Recorder – a vehicle "black box" – that was imbedded in the vehicle's floor. The Event Data Recorder contains a wealth of information about the vehicle at impact, such as speed, braking degree and ignition position. The Hairs accuse GM of fraudulently concealing this information from them, knowing that the vehicle would eventually be crushed.
"GM was aware that this vehicle contained an Event Data Recorder, and it intentionally withheld this information from the Hairs, hoping that they would forever be uninformed about their claim," said Jonathan Michaels, founding member of MLG Automotive Law. "However, we now have obtained evidence that Ben's car – and every other car subject to the ignition switch recall – had an Event Data Recorder, and we know how to retrieve the data."
As Michaels said, "We believe that GM sought to conceal the fact that their recalled vehicles contained Event Data Recorders because such a device would enable injured consumers to become informed about the value of their claims. GM said nothing about it in its notices to consumers, said nothing about it in its press releases and, importantly, Mary Barra said nothing about it in her testimony before Congress."
GM has stated that the ignition switch defect resulted in 12 deaths, but Michaels believes the number to be far greater. As Michaels said, "GM is only counting front-impact crashes in its death toll. That is insane. According to GM's logic, if a defective ignition switch caused a car to flip over, killing its occupant, it would bear no responsibility. That is incredibly offensive."
The Hairs' lawsuit seeks punitive damages against GM for the way it treated them. In addition to concealing the Event Data Recorder and the ignition switch defect, the lawsuit claims that GM continues to send the April 2010 power steering recall notice to the Hairs, despite knowing that the vehicle has been crushed and that their son is dead. The Hairs state that they went to GM dealerships on three separate occasions to have the notices stop, but they still come.
If proved, the Hairs' claim could expose GM to substantial liability. Last week a Montana jury returned a verdict of $248 million against Hyundai for a steering-related fatality. "It's time that manufacturers recognize that the public isn't going to stand for this type of fraudulent conduct," said Michaels.
The death of Ben has had devastating effects on his mother, Brenda. Because the accident site is only two miles from their home and on the only road into town, Brenda began refusing to leave the house. Earlier this year she suffered a stroke, and is now paralyzed. Ben's father, Gordon, spends his time caring for his wife, and assisting with the foundation he started in his son's memory, the Benjamin Hair Just Swim for Life Foundation.
About MLG Automotive Law
Located in Newport Beach, California, MLG Automotive Law is a full service business law firm, focusing on the automotive industry. MLG Automotive Law has litigated cases against nearly every major automotive manufacturer, and is counsel on two class action cases against General Motors for the ignition switch recall. Follow MLG Automotive Law on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
If you would like to schedule an interview with Jonathan Michaels, please contact Sharyl Beeman at (949) 581-6900 or email at email@example.com.
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