DETROIT – A Texas federal judge has denied an emergency motion that would have forced General Motors to tell owners of more than 2 million recalled cars to stop driving them until the ignition switches are replaced.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued her order Thursday in Corpus Christi. Attorney Robert Hilliard, who represents some owners, had argued that the GM cars could lose power at any moment and expose their occupants to serious injury or death.
The plaintiffs in the case, Charles and Grace Silvas, own a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt, which began experiencing sudden power loss beginning in 2010. They claimed that the problem occurred even after the ignition switch was replaced.
Ramos ruled that courts have deferred to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government’s auto safety watchdog, in cases like this. The agency, she wrote, is proceeding with the GM recall. The Silvases have the right to petition NHTSA for a “park it now” alert, but have not done so.
She also wrote that the Silvases request should be granted only if necessary to preserve their rights before trial, and she was not convinced of that in this case.
So far GM has recalled 2.6 million older-model small cars worldwide because the ignition switches can unexpectedly slip out of the “run” position, shutting off the engine. If that happens, it knocks out power-assisted steering and brakes and disables the air bags. GM has said at least 13 people have died in crashes linked to the problem. It also has admitted knowing about the danger for more than a decade, but only began recalling the cars this February.
Hilliard, in a statement Thursday, said the judge’s ruling put’s people’s lives at risk. “GM knows, as a fact, that by winning this hearing, people will die or be seriously injured in their defective vehicles,” he said. The statement made no mention of an appeal.
GM had urged the court not to intervene and instead let the recall proceed. The carmaker said extensive testing had shown that if the recall instructions are followed, there is no risk that the ignition switch would fail.
GM CEO Mary Barra has said the switches are safe as long as people remove everything from their key chains. Weight on the chains can wear the switches and cause them to move with light force or when the vehicles go over bumps.