Updated: 03/24/2014 7:44 AM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste
Photo: Photo: KSTP file
The families of three teenagers killed or injured in a 2006 Wisconsin car crash are suing General Motors, alleging that the company was negligent in designing its small cars and committed fraud by not disclosing facts about the defects.
They claim the automaker didn't warn drivers about a faulty part in its small cars.
Natasha Weigel, who was 18, and Amy Rademaker, who was 15, died after the October 2006 crash in Saint Croix County involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt compact car with a faulty ignition switch. The car's driver, Megan Phillips, suffered permanent brain damage, according to a statement from the families' law firm.
The girls were in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt, which was one of the 1.6 million cars recalled for faulty ignition switches.
Our 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation one month after the crash found the airbags failed to deploy. We've since learned the faulty ignition switch can not only cut off steering and brake power, but can also disable the air bags.
The lawsuit - which was filed Friday in Hennepin County where the car was purchased - claims GM hid the defect for more than a decade. It seeks more than $50,000 each for Phillips and the families of Weigel and Rademaker.
GM would not comment directly on the lawsuit but said it's focused on "ensuring the safety and peace of mind of our customers involved in the recall."
Under the terms of its bankruptcy, GM is not liable for legal claims from crashes that occurred before it left bankruptcy protection in July of 2009. Such claims would go to a trust formed to settle claims against the old company. Lawyers, though, are researching whether they can prove that GM knew about the ignition switch problem during the bankruptcy but didn't disclose it to the court. In that case, the new GM might be liable for older claims.
CEO Mary Barra has admitted that GM took too long to recall the cars and apologized to the families of those killed in crashes. The company said the ignition switches can wear from heavy, dangling keys. If the key chains are bumped or people drive on rough surfaces, the switches can suddenly change from the "run" position to "accessory" or "off."
On Feb. 13, GM announced the recall of more than 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s (model years 2005-2007). Two weeks later it added 842,000 Ion compacts (2003-2007), and Chevrolet HHR SUVs and Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars (2006-2007). The recalled cars have the same ignition switches.
Barra said she expects all the cars to be repaired by October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.