Warnings have already been issued to expect the number of recalls from General Motors to rise this summer. Now, critics are claiming the number of fatalities blamed on an ignition-switch defect that forced General Motors to recall 2.6 million small cars will also rise dramatically in the coming weeks.
An attorney for a group claiming to have been injured in a GM vehicle with an ignition switch that turned off suddenly killing the engine and disabling the air bag claims to have evidence that at least the defect has contributed to the deaths of 60 motorists.
Clarence Ditlow, the head of the Center for Auto Safety and a long-time GM critic, said this week that his review of complaints filed with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that the defect has contributed to at least 50 deaths and he expects the total to rise as investigators uncover more cases where air bags failed to deploy in GM cars because the engine had switched off.
GM had no comment about the claims of additional fatalities, but has said it has found additional cases in which its vehicles were involved in accidents that could be linked to the ignition-switch defect.
With the cost and complexity of the litigation rising by the day, the automaker is hoping to have the dozens of lawsuits it now faces consolidated in Manhattan, close to the court that handled the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy decision left the legal claims originated before 2009 with the “old” General Motors Corp.; and holding the new General Motors Co. harmless, in theory at least.
The bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction over the pre-2009 claims is being challenged by the attorney’s representing plaintiffs, who have offered various theories for lifting GM’s bankruptcy court protection. The bankruptcy court has not ruled yet and the loser will inevitably appeal.
(Highway crashes cost country $871 billion annually. For more, Click Here.)
GM has filed motions to have the ignition-switch litigation consolidated into one giant legal proceeding that would literally fill any federal courtroom with attorneys from both sides. Lawyers from around the country representing plaintiffs injured in GM vehicles have countered with a proposal that would consolidate the cases in California where federal judges have managed the litigation around Toyota’s sudden acceleration case, which ultimately cost the Japanese automaker more than $1 billion.
(Click Here for details about the shake up at Automobile magazine.)
What’s not mentioned in the legal briefs from both sides is the fact that California judges and juries have been a long history of siding with plaintiffs.
(To see how close automakers are to setting new recall record in U.S., Click Here.)
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which could come relatively quickly, will be only one step in staking out the scope of GM’s liability for the switch defect. GM has already set aside more than $1.5 billion to cover the cost of recalling and fixing cars still on the road.
Moreover, the multidistrict litigation was asked to consolidate the economic loss claims to better manage pre-trial exchanges of evidence and depositions. Death and bodily injury claims will be excluded from the combined cases. Claims filed in state courts also wouldn’t be included and would have to be litigated separately, barring a sweeping ruling from the bankruptcy judge that sidelines claims that pre-date GM’s 2009 financial failure.