US judge declines to order 'park it now' notices for GM cars

Written by Reuters | Updated: Apr 18 2014, 20:54pm hrs
A federal judge on Thursday rejected a bid to compel General Motors Co to tell customers to stop driving millions of cars that have been recalled for defective ignition switches.

Attorneys representing Charles and Grace Silvas, the owners of a recalled 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt, had sought an emergency order directing GM to issue "park it now" notices for the 2.6 million vehicles that have been recalled since February over the switches. The notices would have told owners that the cars were too dangerous to remain on the road.

GM opposed the motion, arguing that the vehicles were safe to drive as long as nothing extra was attached to the key while it was in the ignition.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, Texas, denied the request in a ruling on Thursday, saying that she would defer to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency that oversees auto safety.

"The court is of the opinion that NHTSA is far better equipped than this court to address the broad and complex issues of automotive safety and the regulation of automotive companies in connection with the nationwide recall," Ramos wrote.

A spokesman for GM, Greg Martin, said the company respected the court's decision.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, called it a "sad day for tomorrow's victim."

"Unfortunately at GM, when profits come up against morality, profits seldom lose," he said in a statement.

At least 13 deaths in Saturn Ions, Chevrolet Cobalts and other models have been linked to the faulty ignition switches, which are prone to being bumped or jostled into accessory mode while cars are still moving. That can shut off engines and disable power steering, power brakes and airbags.

The company is facing numerous lawsuits over the vehicles, on behalf of individuals injured or killed in crashes or customers who say their cars lost value as a result of the recall.

Plaintiffs in those cases have accused GM of knowing about the defect for at least a decade, but failing to recall cars until this year. GM has apologized and said it is moving as quickly as it can to replace the switches.

The case is Silvas v. General Motors, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, No. 14-89.