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Both Sides in GM Recall Lawsuits Vie for Control of Black Box Data

In 2005, a drunken 16-year-old lost control of her Chevrolet Cobalt and died after crashing into a tree in Charles County, Maryland. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was called in when patrol officers noticed that the airbags had failed. Data from the event data recorder (EDR), or black box, showed that the airbags had not worked since the car had been in accessory power mode when the collision occurred.

The family of the teenager accepted a million dollar settlement from GM with the agreement that they would not pursue the case. Now, nine years later, GM has recalled more than 2.5 million vehicles with a faulty ignition switch and is facing many lawsuits from car owners who were injured or lost family members — and the question of who has primary rights over EDR data has become a primary issue.

The defective ignition switch in the GM cars sometimes shuts off the engine, putting drivers at risk for a traffic collision and serious injury or death, since the airbags cannot inflate if the engine is off. GM has acknowledged that their defective product was responsible for 54 traffic accidents and 13 deaths, but other reports claim the fatality count might be as high as 74. In at least one fatal accident case, GM investigators took possession of the black box and refused to share the information with the family until Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania put pressure on them to do so.

Both sides in an injury lawsuit may want access to the EDR data since it contains crucial evidence that can help determine the cause of the accident, including:

  • Vehicle power mode status
  • Braking
  • Speed
  • Seat-belt status

Large trucks have EDR systems that provide information about vehicle operation, maintenance and the number of hours the driver has been behind the wheel. This information can help reconstruct the accident after a truck collision. Make sure your personal injury accident lawyer has the resources and skill necessary to perform a thorough investigation of your auto or trucking accident.

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