General Motors kept consumers and the general public in the dark for years about a dangerous ignition switch defect that has forced the auto giant to recall millions of vehicles, a lawsuit filed in federal court in Baton Rouge alleges.

The suit, which seeks damages from GM, contends there could be only one explanation for the alleged concealment:

“For many years, GM has known of the ignition switch defects that exist in millions of defective vehicles sold in the United States.

“But, to protect its profits and maximize sales, GM concealed the defects and their tragic consequences and allowed unsuspecting vehicle owners to continue driving highly dangerous vehicles,” the suit charges.

The suit’s lone named plaintiff is East Feliciana Parish resident Jomaka Coleman, owner of a 2007 Pontiac G5, one of the recalled GM vehicles.

The suit alleges GM learned of the ignition switch defects as early as 2001. Coleman did not learn of the problem until March.

“Had GM disclosed the ignition switch defects, (Coleman) would not have purchased her G5, or would have paid less than she did, and would not have retained the vehicle,” her suit states.

GM spokesman Greg Martin said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation but said GM is working hard to get parts to its dealers to repair vehicles and “restore customers’ peace of mind.”

The lawsuit, filed April 13, asks Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to certify the suit as a class-action.

“Devaluation — that’s the damages they’re going to have,” Coleman’s lead attorney, Daniel Becnel Jr., said Thursday of owners of the recalled vehicles.

Class members, if victorious, could elect to require GM to either repair the defective ignition switches or provide a comparable vehicle that does not have such defects, the suit says.

The recalled vehicles are the 2005-2010 Pontiac G5, the 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice, the 2003-07 Saturn Ion, the 2007-2010 Saturn Sky, the 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt and the 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR.

The ignition switch problem, which has been linked to at least a dozen deaths, prompted GM to recall 2.6 million small cars.

The defective switches can cause sudden stalling, which results in a loss of vehicle speed and braking control and airbag nondeployment, the suit states.

Other suits have been filed against GM in other parts of the country, so whether Coleman’s suit remains in Baton Rouge will be determined down the road, Becnel said.

Meanwhile, GM revealed last week in court filings in Corpus Christi, Texas, that it will ask a federal bankruptcy judge to shield the company from legal claims for conduct that occurred before its 2009 bankruptcy, The Associated Press reports.