A jury has ruled that a defective General Motors ignition switch was not to blame for the 2014 crash of a vehicle in New Orleans. The second verdict to favor the automaker in a series of cases being heard in a federal courtroom in New York City, it could improve GM’s position as it looks to settle hundreds of other ignition switch cases.
The first trial was unexpectedly halted when evidence was presented showing the plaintiff lied about his crash and subsequent medical injuries. But four other so-called bellwether cases are yet to be heard by the court.
“The jurors studied the merits of the case and saw the truth: This was a very minor accident that had absolutely nothing to do with the car’s ignition switch,” said GM, in a statement referring to the 2014 crash of a 2007 Saturn Sky.
Lawyers representing owner Dionne Spain claimed the vehicle crashed as a result of a faulty ignition switch that could suddenly turn to the off position when jostled.
GM has acknowledged the defect which has now been linked to more than 120 deaths and hundreds of additional injuries, and it admitted that it failed to launch a recall for more than a decade.
(First ignition case against GM dismissed due to lying plaintiff. For more, Click Here.)
The maker in 2014 announced it would set up a victims’ compensation fund, eventually paying out $595 million to those who could prove the defect led to a crash and injuries or death. Separately, it has paid out $900 million to settle a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation and another $575 million to settle more than 1,380 civil cases filed by victims and by shareholders.
But GM has also refused to settle hundreds of other cases now before a Manhattan federal court.
The court has chosen six cases to serve as bellwethers meant to test the strategies of both plaintiffs and the defense. The outcome of those cases are meant to serve as a template for both sides to use in an effort to settle the remaining cases.
The original case ended abruptly when an alleged crash victim was shown to have lied under oath, among other things wrongfully blaming the automaker for the loss of the family’s “dream house.”
(Click Here for details about how automakers set a new record for recalls in 2015.)
In the latest case, GM’s attorneys took an aggressive approach challenging claims that the owner of the Saturn, Dionne Spain, and passenger Lawrence Barthelemy were injured in a crash on a New Orleans bridge caused by the ignition switch defect.
“The car is not the villain in this case,” argued attorney Mike Brock, of Kirkland & Ellis, the Washington law firm representing GM. “This is a case about a car that doesn’t even have a dent.”
Jurors apparently were influenced by evidence that showed there were dozens of other crashes on the bridge that same night due to an ice storm.
“Sometimes,” Brock told jurors, “accidents just happen.”
The favorable verdict came despite GM’s admission that it knew about the ignition switch problem since 2005 but failed to take action to replace those devices until 2014, shortly after Mary Barra was appointed the maker’s CEO. Barra ordered the recall of 2.4 million vehicles equipped with the suspect switches, while recalling nearly 30 million other GM vehicles to repair a variety of other defects.
(To see why the recalls are going to keep coming, Click Here.)
Under certain circumstances, the switches would move to the off position, not only shutting down the engine but disabling both power brakes and steering as well as the vehicle’s airbags.