GM Is Starting To Win Some Ignition Switch Cases — But Plaintiffs Aren’t Letting Up

So far the company has paid out $2 billion to settle with plaintiffs and pay fines to the Justice and Transportation Departments.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

For two years, General Motors has been on the business end of a mighty onslaught of litigation related to the most abysmal safety failure in the company’s history. This year the automaker has begun winning some of its cases related to faulty ignition switches, but plaintiffs suing the company say they don’t intend to back down.

The cases all relate to the 2.6 million vehicles that were recalled by GM in 2014 for having faulty ignition switches, which can knock out power-assisted steering and breaks. The affected vehicles have been blamed for 124 deaths. So far the company has paid out $2 billion to settle with plaintiffs and pay fines to the Justice and Transportation Departments. GM has admitted that some employees knew about the defective switches years before the recall.

The company has also invested billions in overhauling its safety and engineering protocols.

Unlike last year, when the country’s largest automaker chose to settle 400 claims through its compensation fund, the company is now fighting some of the cases and so far has won three of them.

Last week, GM chose to settle and dodge an open trial of a case that the plaintiff’s lawyer considered to be one of the strongest against the company. The case involved a father of five who died in a single-car crash in 2013. If GM would have lost the case the jury would have been able to decide how much to award the plaintiff. Instead the company reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount.

Though GM had to settle, it kept the company from having to defend itself in an open courtroom, which it still hasn’t done.

The next day, the company avoided another potential coutroom trial. The lawsuit involved a man suing over injuries related to a 2013 crash but it was dismissed by both parties.

Both lawsuits were part of six selected as “bellwether” lawsuits — or cases that would help lawyers understand how juries view the evidence.

GM is still facing two more bellwether cases in New York, including one that could be ready for trial by June. The plaintiffs include a Virginia woman who said she endured traumatic injuries after a 2011 crash. A lawyer involved in the NY cases said they are forging ahead with “all options” on the table for the next trials.

When the cases are settled or dismissed it is not always made clear why. But last year the company said it had rejected 91 percent of requests made to its claim department because there wasn’t enough evidence to connect those cases with the faulty ignition switches.

Despite the recent victories, GM is a long way from exiting its litigation quagmire. There are still more than 230 injury and death lawsuits pending in federal courts and another 18 scheduled for state courts between now and 2017.

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