Keyless Ignitions Led to Carbon Monoxide Deaths and Should Have Been Recalled, Suit Says

The defendants allegedly knew or should have known the cars were risky.

ByABC News
August 27, 2015, 1:28 PM

— -- Some of the world’s biggest automakers should have recalled millions of vehicles with keyless ignitions because the cars, which don’t shut off automatically if the driver fails to press the start/stop button, could be a deadly carbon monoxide risk, according to a new lawsuit.

According to the suit, filed in Los Angeles Federal Court on behalf of keyless car drivers Wednesday, there have been at least 13 deaths -- and a number of close calls -- from carbon monoxide poisoning after consumers failed to manually shut off their engines. The suit claims, “Reasonable drivers mistakenly believe that removing the Keyless Fob from the vehicle turns off the engine.”

Keyless cars allow drivers to start their engines without inserting a key into the ignition switch, but instead pressing a start/stop button. To shut off the car, they must manually press the button again.

The lawsuit claims the defendants -- Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, GM, BMW, Volkswagen, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Kia -- knew or should have known of these risks. Yet according to the suit, they allegedly sold keyless fobs “without instituting adequate safeguards, warnings, or other safety features,” including a relatively inexpensive auto-off feature that automatically switches the engine off if the car is left unattended.

Some of the cars were equipped with audible alerts, which sounded when drivers exited the vehicle with the engine still on.

The lawsuit claims that, “for years the Automakers have known about the deadly consequences that can result when a driver exits a vehicle with our without the keyless fob and without having depressed the Start/Stop button. Nevertheless, even though an Auto-Off feature can be implemented without significant effort or cost, the Automakers have refused to act.”

Several consumers complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the lack of the auto-off feature, and in 2007, Ford and General Motors even filed patents to address the issue -- supposedly demonstrating, according to the lawsuit, that automakers (who read one another’s patents) allegedly “recognized the dangerous consequences associated with keyless fobs.”

Though some of the car companies installed auto-off in later models, they allegedly failed to recall the earlier model cars, or provide reasonable auto-off software updates.

While there have been lawsuits brought by victims of carbon monoxide poisoning (or their families), some of which have settled, the lawyers bringing this lawsuit are seeking class action status to represent all owners of the models of cars with keyless entry named in the lawsuit.

The car makers also allegedly failed to include warnings in cars manuals or sales brochures and allegedly “continue to conceal” the safety risk from the public at large. Meanwhile, they profited from sales of keyless fobs, which are often part of a costly upgrade package.

Most car companies declined comment to ABC News, but Ford said, "Ford takes the safety of our customers very seriously; the keyless ignition system has proven to be a safe and reliable innovative feature that has been well-received by customers. Ford vehicles equipped with keyless ignition alert drivers when the driver’s door is open and the vehicle’s engine is running.”

Volkswagen said, “Volkswagen Group of America and its brands consider the safety and satisfaction of its consumers and passengers as a top priority. All brands within the Volkswagen Group are engineered to meet or exceed all government regulations.”

ABC News' Daniel Steinberger contributed to this report.