PhotoThe Supreme Court has refused to give General Motors blanket immunity from lawsuits by families of consumers killed and injured by defective ignition switches in small GM sedans.

The automaker had appealed to the court to review a lower-court ruling that left some victims' families free to sue the automaker, leaving it vulnerable to an estimated $10 billion in claims.

At issue was a ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the automaker should have disclosed the defect during its 2009 bankruptcy. If it had done so, it might have been able to shield its successor company -- "New GM" -- from further claims, the appeals court said.

The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case means that GM is now potentially liable for hundreds of new wrongful death and personal injury cases. GM has already paid more than $2 billion to settle cases arising from the defect. 

The defective ignition switches were installed on 2.6 million cars. They can slip out of the "on" position, causing the engine to shut down and leaving the driver with no power brakes or power steering and no airbags. At least 124 deaths have been blamed on the defect.

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