A lawsuit has been filed against General Motors LLC (GM) in a Colorado federal court involving the crash avoidance system in an amputee’s 2009 Chevy Malibu. It alleged that the system failed to engage when the driver, Kristin Hopkins, lost control of her vehicle on a mountain road in 2014 and careened off a cliff. Ms. Hopkins claims that her car’s electronic stability control system, brake apply sensor and power steering functions failed because of negligent designs and defects allowed by GM. She contends further that GM is liable for putting her in an unreasonably dangerous vehicle that nearly cost her her life when it tumbled down a mountainside, trapping her for six days with life-threatening injuries. The suit says:
Defendant is strictly liable to plaintiff for the injuries and damages caused by the … defects and inadequacies in the design and manufacture of the Malibu.
Ms. Hopkins had been driving her Malibu through the mountains in April 2014 when she entered an “S curve” and her vehicle lost traction with the road. The Malibu’s electronic stability control system failed to engage, her electronic power steering suddenly gave out, and her car literally flew off the side of the mountain, falling nearly 300 feet and coming to rest in a wooded area that could not be seen from the road. Ms. Hopkins was trapped for nearly 120 hours in below-freezing temperatures until she was finally rescued and flown to a hospital, where her legs were amputated and she underwent several surgeries to repair brain, heart and bone injuries, the complaint says.
When she returned home from the hospital in July 2014, Ms. Hopkins received a letter from GM notifying her that it was issuing a recall on Chevy Malibus built between 2004 and 2012 for a defect related to the cars’ traction control, electronic stability control and panic braking assist features. She received a second letter from GM in September alerting her that the steering column torque sensor control in some 2009 Chevy Malibus contained a defect that may cause the electric power steering assist to suddenly fail.
Documents provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the Chevrolet’s first recall indicated that the body control module’s failure to communicate with the electronic brake control module was first seen by GM in 2008, one year prior to Hopkins’ vehicle having been built and six years prior to the accident. It’s alleged in the complaint:
Without electronic stability control directing the appropriate throttle to the appropriate wheels and braking the appropriate wheels, coupled with the sudden loss of electronic power steering, Ms. Hopkins could not avoid the crash; without these critical safety features, she was handicapped in ways she didn’t understand, rendering her panic maneuvers meaningless.
Ms. Hopkins continues to undergo extensive rehabilitation and medical treatment for her injuries, and will require a lifetime of physical and mental assistance. Ms. Hopkins is represented by Kurt Zaner, Marc Harden and Elliot Singer of Zaner Harden Law LLP. The case is in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
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