The Latest Chapter in the GM Ignition Switch Lawsuit Saga

by Terry Bryant

Detroit automaker General Motors Co. (GM) on December 28, 2017, won a court ruling that could significantly impact, and even reduce the value of, certain civil claims currently against it over flawed vehicle ignition switches. The switches have been linked to more than 120 deaths and many injuries and triggered a huge recall.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan ruled that the plaintiffs in two bellwether cases of the Multi-District Litigation (MDL) which surrounds accidents involving airbags in GM vehicles could not introduce expert testimony to show how the company’s defective ignition switches might have played a role in those crashes. Plaintiffs claimed their GM ignition switches might have rotated from “run” at the moment of impact to “accessory” or “off” – which either caused the accidents or made them worse – and then slipped back into the “run” position before the airbags deployed.

But Furman, who oversees the MDL that deals with the automaker’s ignition switches called the expert testimony “unreliable” because there was no evidence that “double switch rotation” occurred anywhere.

“The court recognizes that these conclusions may have a significant impact on a swath of cases now pending in the MDL and, thus, does not view them lightly,” the judge wrote. Furman also said in his ruling that his role is “to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony,” and that the opinions of the plaintiffs’ experts “do not pass muster.”

A spokesman for Detroit-based GM, said the decision “reinforces our approach to contest cases that lack merit, while being open to fair resolution of cases that have [greater] merit according to the facts and the law.”

GM has paid more than $2.6 billion in ignition-based penalties and settlements. This includes a $900 million settlement in October 2017 over a U.S. Department of Justice criminal case, surrounding ignition switches that purportedly caused engines to stall and prevented airbags from deploying as passenger protection in case of an accident.

The largest U.S. automaker has recalled more than 2.6 million vehicles over the defect since February 2014. In addition to the 124 deaths, 275 were injured in small cars such as the Chevrolet’s Cobalt and Saturn’s Ion. The defective ignition switches could cause vehicles to stall, and GM recalled more than 2.7 million vehicles beginning in 2014.

As of November 30, 2017, 1,723 personal injury and wrongful death claims in the multi-district litigation remain unresolved, including 213 claims that airbags experienced deployment problems, according to court filings. GM has also settled more than 1,700 claims.

Thursday’s decision also dismissed claims by:

  • A 19-year-old Texas woman whose Chevrolet Cobalt crashed on an icy highway in Alice, Texas, in February 2011.
  • The son of another Texas claimant over a January 2013 crash of her 2007 Cobalt in the Houston area. The victim – age 90 – died the following year.

If you or your family has been injured by a defective product in any way, the Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law Firm is at your service. You can reach us either by filling out our online contact form or calling our toll-free number: (800) 444-5000.