SCRIPPS EXCLUSIVE: Lawsuit filed against 10 automakers over keyless ignition carbon monoxide deaths

Class action urges ‘automatic shut-offs'

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ten of the world’s largest automakers are facing a consumer class action lawsuit filed early Wednesday morning in California on behalf of millions of Americans who own or lease vehicles equipped with keyless ignitions. The suit alleges the automakers have known for years about increased dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning when people mistakenly leave their keyless ignition vehicles running after they’ve left the car, taking their key fobs with them.

Keyless ignitions have become widely available in recent years. The keyless ignition technology allows drivers to start their engines with an electronic key fob and the push of a button instead of using a traditional physical key. At issue, the driver can take the fob far away from the vehicle, such as to the bedroom, while inadvertently leaving the car running and emitting carbon monoxide for an indefinite period of time without the key fob present. This can become especially dangerous – even deadly – when the car remains running in garages attached to a home.

“Millions of American drivers are driving cars that have a defect that can kill them,” said Martis Alex, lead attorney on the lawsuit at the New York firm Labaton Sucharow. “We want that defect fixed. And the defect is, the keyless fob vehicles that don’t have an auto shut-off.”

Alex filed the lawsuit along with co-counsel at the California law firm Hagens Berman.

The class action suit seeks an injunction ordering Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Kia to install what it claims is an inexpensive automatic shut-down feature on all affected vehicles. The suit estimates at least 5 million vehicles are affected, and it further alleges some automakers have begun installing the “auto-off” feature on newer model vehicles, while leaving older keyless ignition models without an automatic shut-down capability.  

Scripps News became aware of the keyless ignition class action suit at the end of its own independent investigation on the same topic. That investigative report, which is being released later today on Scripps Websites and television stations nationally, has confirmed at least 13 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths linked to keyless ignition vehicles after drivers inadvertently left their cars running in enclosed spaces such as garages. The investigation examines years of delays and inaction by both automakers and federal regulators, who themselves declared the increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in keyless cars “a clear safety problem” in 2011.

Scripps will release its full investigative report, reaction from the auto industry, and more from its exclusive interview with the attorney leading the new class action litigation throughout the day on Scripps Websites across the country.

If you have a story about keyless ignition to share, email Angela M. Hill (@AngelaMHill), Scripps National Investigative Producer, contributed to this report.

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