Nearly a dozen of the world’s largest automakers were sued last week in a civil suit by U.S. consumers alleging they knowingly withheld the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in more than 5 million vehicles that were equipped with keyless ignitions. The suit claims that the companies concealed the risk faced by drivers whose cars had the equipment, and 13 deaths resulted from the dangerous switches.
Keyless ignitions have become wildly popular in newer model cars, for their convenience and modern appeal, as they lets a driver start a vehicle by pushing an on-off button, instead of inserting a key, once the vehicle senses the presence of a nearby electronic fob.
According to a complaint filed in Los Angeles, carbon monoxide is emitted even when drivers exit their vehicles after taking their electronic keys with them. Most drivers, according to the suit and Reuters, believe their engines shut off, however 28 plaintiffs said this mistaken assumption causes serious, sometimes fatal injuries to those who inhale the gas (most often passengers). Carbon monoxide can also be emitted when vehicles are left in garages that are attached to homes, posing a hazard to occupants inside. The plaintiffs also alleged that the vehicles greatly reduce in resale value because of the defect.
The companies named in the suit include BMW, including Mini; Daimler’s Mercedes Benz; Fiat Chrysler; Ford Motor Company; General Motors Company; Honda, including Acura; Hyundai, including Kia; Nissan, including Infinity; Toyota, including Lexus; and Volkswagen, including Bentley.
According to Reuters, the plaintiffs are alleging that automakers could have helped to prevent the 13 deaths and numerous injuries, by installing an inexpensive feature to automatically turn off unattended engines. The suit states that GM and Ford even took steps to patent a shut-off feature. To date, 27 complaints have been logged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over safety concerns with keyless ignitions.
“The automakers had actual knowledge of the dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning consequences of vehicles with keyless fobs that lack an automatic shut-off,” the complaint said, according to Reuters. The lawsuit seeks class-action status and a ruling that will require automakers to install automatic shut-off features on all existing and future vehicles that are sold with keyless ignitions. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for victims affected by the safety issue.