General Motors Co. settled the final two bellwether cases over ignition switch flaws scheduled for trial in federal court in New York, averting one set to begin next week.
Terms of the settlements are confidential, according to statements Monday by GM and Bob Hilliard, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. Both lawsuits claimed injuries caused by accidents linked to switches that could jostle into the off position.
The agreements resolve only part of the legal overhang for GM, which is facing hundreds more claims of deaths and injuries in federal and state courts in the U.S. related to its 2014 recall of millions of U.S. cars with faulty switches. The devices in GM’s initial recall have been linked to at least 124 deaths, with the largest U.S. automaker paying at least $870 million to settle claims and an additional $900 million to the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal investigation.
Many of the cases were combined before a federal judge in New York, in a multidistrict litigation, a process used to resolve mass lawsuits. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman set six to be tried this year as bellwethers that create guidance for how others should proceed. One bellwether case was dropped before trial, GM won two, and with the latest pair of agreements, three have now been settled.
GM’s willingness to resolve both federal cases set for trial “creates momentum to continue the process of full resolution” of all the multidistrict cases, Hilliard, the plaintiff’s attorney, said in a statement.
The first trial win for GM came before the case ever went to verdict as the plaintiffs folded mid-trial after being caught lying. In the second, a federal jury in March blamed a New Orleans crash on a freak ice storm, rather than a faulty ignition switch.
GM also won the first state case to trial, when a Houston jury last month rejected the claim of a 24-year-old Texas man who claimed a defective switch caused him to lose control of his car and smash into another vehicle, killing the other driver.
The trials have helped push cases toward settlement by showing “causation matters,” said James Cain, a GM spokesman. “Both parties have to be realistic.”
Juries “have carefully considered engineering and other evidence, not just the mistakes GM has already admitted, and they’re holding plaintiffs to their burden of proof,” he said.
There are several other cases waiting to be added to the bellwether schedule. The judge has said that after earlier settlements that the deals shouldn’t undermine the point of having fully litigated cases to provide guidance for others.
The bellwether case that was scheduled to begin trial on Sept. 12 involved plaintiff Stephanie Cochram, who was injured in a June 2011 accident involving a Chevy Cobalt. The trial for Amy Norville, who was injured in a 2013 accident involving a Saturn Ion, was scheduled for Nov. 14. GM had disputed fault for both accidents.
The case is In Re: General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, 14-MD-2543, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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