Local family sues GM; blames wreck on ignition switch failure

The scene of the Dec. 4, 2013, wreck on Alabama 64 that killed Aubrey Wallace Williams. The family says the ignition of Williams’ Chevrolet Cobalt went out, causing the wreck with a logging truck.

MONTGOMERY — An Anderson man is suing General Motors, claiming his daughter's death was caused by an ignition switch that is the subject of a large recall.

Steve Smith filed the suit Monday in Lauderdale County Circuit Court on behalf of his daughter, Aubrey Wallace Williams.

The suit says the ignition in her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt went out on Dec. 4, 2013, causing the vehicle to become uncontrollable. Her car crossed into the oncoming lane and hit an 18-wheeler log truck. She was killed instantly in the fiery crash.

The stay-at-home mom left behind two sons, ages 11 and 5.

In February, GM recalled 1.6 million small cars over problems with ignition switches going from the "on" position to the "off" or "accessory" position, which cuts off power-assisted steering and brakes and may cause air bags not to inflate in a crash.

Smith's attorney, former Alabama Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, said GM knew about the problems as early as 2001, but chose to engineer a massive cover-up rather than an inexpensive fix.

He said an investigator took another look at the Williams wreck after GM announced the recall last month and saw the ignition failed.

"You are going to find out that over a decade they sat on and covered up a known safety issue," Beasley said.

Attorney Tom McCutcheon, of the Florence law firm, McCutcheon and Hamner, is the local firm involved in the case. He said the National Highway Administration has linked 303 deaths to the problem.

"This has been very traumatic on the family," McCutcheon said. "Hopefully we can prevent something else from happening."

GM spokesman Jim Cain said he can't comment on specific litigation. But he said, "We know bad things happened and we have apologized."

He said GM is conducting an internal investigation to determine why the recall took so long and is working quickly to replace the switches.

Smith's attorney said his firm expects to file more suits over the ignition switches.

Beasley founded Beasley Allen, one of the South's largest plaintiff law firms. It has won several big verdicts against auto manufacturers. It got a Bullock County jury to return a $122 million verdict against GM in 2002 over a traffic accident that left a 12-year-old boy disabled and disfigured. GM appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The case was subsequently settled for a lesser, undisclosed amount.

Also Monday, a law firm in Corpus Christi, Texas, that represents up to a dozen people killed in GM cars asked a Texas federal judge to order GM to tell customers to park all of the recalled cars until they are repaired.

The Hilliard Munoz Gonzales firm, representing a Texas couple who own a 2006 Cobalt, said in its motion that the GM vehicles are unsafe even if drivers remove everything from their key rings as advised by the company.

GM told customers in a letter that an empty key chain may not help because rough road conditions or other jarring could cause the cars to lose engine power, as well as power steering and air bags, the motion said.

GM CEO Mary Barra said last week that engineers assured her the cars are safe to drive as long as everything is removed from the key ring. The engineers said they would let their wives drive the cars, she told reporters.

TimesDaily Senior Staff Writer Tom Smith contributed to this report.

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