Samuel and Catherine Gabriele have brought a civil claim in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against General Motors (GM) and the Faulkner Buick/GMC dealership. Their son Stephen was killed in an accident while operating his Pontiac Grand Prix. The claim alleges that a faulty airbag is to blame for the fatality that occurred on West Philadelphia Ave when his car traveled off of the road, struck a tree, and burst into flames. The vehicle's airbag failed to deploy upon the impact. Gabriele was exposed to significant smoke inhalation as well.
The Falls Township Police Department responded to the scene and had the car brought to an automotive shop for storage. Representatives from GM apparently stopped to inspect the vehicle to access the damage on several occasions. The claim asserts that GM's airbag system was defectively designed and not suitable for safety purposes. In addition, the company is alleged to have failed to warn motorists of the problem despite having knowledge of the likely dangers.
Some of the key allegations include:
- Wrongful death resulting from negligence
- Product liability
- Vicarious liability
- The plaintiff seeks damages exceeding $50,000, punitive damages, and reasonable legal fees and expenses
In 2014, the company announced a recall that involved a defect in the electrical ignition system that can impede the proper functioning of the airbag unit. The vehicle models that were subject to the recall included the Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Alero, Intrigue, Grand AM, and Grand Prix. The problem occurs when the ignition switch is inadvertently switched to a position that disables the engine and if the vehicle is involved in collision prevents the airbags from deploying.
GM reached a settlement of approximately $120 million for the recall that potentially impacted over two million vehicles in many U.S. states. They were found to have been aware of the dangerous condition and failed to warn or disclose the problem. In addition to rendering the airbags inoperable, the problem also caused hazards associated with power steering and power braking. It was alleged that GM had knowledge of the defect as early as 2004 and the recall efforts were not underway until 2014. Those with current concerns about their vehicle are encouraged to contact their GM dealer or the Consumer Protection Division of their Attorney General's office.
Recent Airbag Problems
Over the last few decades, airbags progressed from an optional safety feature to standard equipment in U.S. vehicles. Over the last couple of years, airbag manufacturers have faced a tremendous wave of legal challenges from airbag malfunctions. Takata is based in Japan and is one of the world's largest manufacturers of these products, which are primarily sold to automobile manufacturers. Millions of Takata airbag-equipped vehicles have been recalled of the last few years in a controversy that dates back to 2008. In total it is estimated that the company has paid out over $1 billion. In addition to civil issues, they plead guilty to wrongdoing of a criminal nature and have since been liable for funding a victim compensation program.