Author: Scott D. Fitzgerald, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Lawyer
In August of this year, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court claiming that major automakers failed to install an essential safeguard in the keyless ignition switches of their vehicles. With keyless ignitions, which use a key fob rather than a traditional key with teeth, an electronic signal is sent to the vehicle to start the engine. The key fob must be in close proximity to the vehicle in order to send this electronic signal to start the vehicle, which is accomplished by pushing an On/Off button on the dash.
The lawsuit alleges that manufacturers, despite possessing the knowledge and capability to do so, declined to install an Auto-Off safety feature in the keyless ignition switch. This would automatically shut the engine off if the key fob left the vehicle or traveled a certain distance away from it. The result is that when drivers park their vehicle in an enclosed garage at home and fail to press the On/Off button to power down the engine, the motor will continue to run despite the fact that the driver and key fob have left the vehicle.
Carbon monoxide fumes have killed at least 13 people nationwide and seriously injured many others in circumstances like those mentioned above. In March of 2012, Adele Ridless and Mort Victor of Boca Raton, Florida, returned home from dinner and parked their Mercedes in the garage attached to their house. Accidentally, they left the engine running. The next morning, friends found their bodies in their bed. They were killed by carbon monoxide that reached levels of 160 parts per million inside their home (carbon monoxide levels are dangerous at 70 parts per million). Earlier this year in Charlotte, North Carolina, a family woke up vomiting from carbon monoxide poisoning after their Nissan Murano was left running for over 10 hours in their attached garage. Four responding police officers also had to be hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning. The local police chief explained, “[t]he gentleman was not familiar with the car because it was new and it’s a hybrid car. . . so it was hard to hear it running, so when he pulled in the garage he didn’t realize it was not turned off.”
The suit alleges that GM recognized the danger several years ago and recalled Chevrolet Volts with model years 2011-2013 because of the danger that “carbon monoxide could build up in [an] enclosed space.” The fix involved a software update that took around 30 minutes and cost approximately $4.78. However, the suit claims that despite that knowledge, GM and other automakers failed to recall all of their other vehicles with the defect.
Beyond a software update, there are other fixes as well. For example, 2014 and 2015 Lincoln MKS vehicles are equipped with an Auto-Off system that shuts down the vehicle’s engine after 30 minutes if there is no activity from the driver.
BMW, Fiat, Chrysler, Bentley, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Kia were all named in the suit.
About the Author: Scott Fitzgerald is a personal injury attorney practicing with the Allen Law Firm. His practice areas include car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, and drunk driving accidents. Scott was named one of the National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 in Virginia.
 See id.; see also http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/26/autos/keyless-ignition-lawsuit/.
 See http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/