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The Number of People Killed by GM’s Defective Switch Will Soon Rise

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We’re all aware that General Motors is one of the world’s most challenging clients right now–and we can sit around all day and wonder why the company’s preferred strategy for dealing with its ongoing recall crisis can be summarized with the word “stonewall.”

But a report released by Reuters today indicates that this horrific story has only just begun.

The crux of GM’s defense holds that thirteen people–and only thirteen people–have died in accidents involving the infamously defective ignition switch that shuts down cars and their airbag mechanisms mid-drive.

Unfortunately, that number will change soon.

A recent must-read New York Times story noted GM’s refusal to release the names of the people on that list and detailed the ways in which the company’s silence has led to heartbreak for many family members and confusion for law enforcement officials, all of whom blamed the deaths in question (at least in part) on drugs and/or alcohol.

Reporters at Reuters simply examined the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a government database collecting reports from the nation’s local law enforcement agencies, and identified at least 74 cases with “some key similarities” to those in the official GM tally.

In comparing the occurrence of such similar crashes among drivers of GM’s recalled Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion to the totals for three similar small cars, Reuters unsurprisingly found that these additional accidents bore the tell-tale signs of switch malfunction: loss of power/steering control and the failure of airbags to deploy.

Of course, Reuters does not claim to definitively link these additional cases to the trend, and a spokesperson for the The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety noted limitations to the group’s analysis. But GM itself admitted that the magical “13″ total comes from the number of lawsuits filed by victims’ families and therefore cannot be seen as definitive.

In other words, no one denies that far more than 13 people died as a direct result of this faulty mechanism.

Over the coming months, we will learn how GM chooses to acknowledge and address this fact–and that response will define public perception of the company for years, if not decades.

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