Bay City man says wife's car had defective ignition switch

Published: Jun. 19, 2015 at 4:50 PM EDT
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(06/19/15) - A Bay City man is suing General Motors, saying his late wife's car should be included in the company's defective ignition switch compensation fund.

Katie Pillars was in a car accident in 2005 and was in coma for more than six years until she died in 2012.

Her husband always wondered how the accident happened. Ben Pillars now believes a defective ignition switch caused the crash.

The car Katie was driving is on GM's recall list for defective ignitions, but it's not on the list of cars covered by the compensation fund.

Ben says that wrong.

"She just liked to help people and meeting new people," Ben said.

Katie worked for the Red Cross and was on her way home from a blood drive in November 2005 when her car went out of control on an Arenac County road, hitting a van. She was badly injured.

"The doctor came out, the ER doctor and said, 'This is severe'. He let me go back because he didn't think she would live," Ben said.

Katie was in a coma for more than six years before she passed away in 2012 at the age of 46.

For years, her husband wondered how she lost control of her 2004 Grand Am. Then GM's defective ignition switch issues came to light in 2014.

"That explained it all," he said.

Ben says investigators never determined a cause of the accident, but he says a police photo of the inside of Katie's car has the answer. The ignition switch is in the off position, with no air bags deployed.

"This explains why she couldn't gain control of the car, you lose power steering, the key is in the off position, you have no power brakes, no power steering," Ben said.

When Ben was notified in April 2014 that the 2004 Grand Am was included in an ignition switch recall, he applied to be included in the compensation fund for victims of the defective ignition switches. GM sent him a letter saying the car was not eligible for the program.

"I was shocked to find out that there are only a few cars involved in the compensation fund, not the entire group of cars on the recall list," Ben said.

Ben is taking his case to court.

Attorney Vic Mastromarco says GM claims that since the accident happened in 2005 - before the company's bankruptcy - it is shielded from this lawsuit. Mastromarco says Katie's death happened in 2012, three years after the new GM was set up.

"It's a very unique case," Mastromarco said. "Everything that GM attempted to portray to the public is like completely the opposite of what they are doing behind the scenes."

A GM spokesperson says the facts are different in the cases of vehicles that have been recalled because of ignition switch-related issues and those cars that are included in the compensation fund.

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