General Motors Co. agreed to settlements in the final two ignition-switch cases slated for trial in a New York federal court this year. Terms of the settlements were not disclosed.
The settlements move GM closer to putting to rest a significant portion the claims that followed the use of a defective ignition switch that GM installed in more than 2.6 million vehicles resulting in 84 separate recalls.
The cases were the final two among a half dozen “bellwether” trials aimed at setting patterns for a larger group of personal injury and wrongful death suits. GM recalled the vehicles with faulty ignition switches in early 2014 after it was proven that jostling the switches could turn off engines and safety features including power steering, power brakes and airbags, creating a substantial hazard for drivers and passengers.
The faulty ignition switch has been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries and GM has spent roughly $2 billion dollars to cover the cost of penalties levied by government agencies, legal settlements and recalls.
The settlements came on the eve of what would have been the fourth in a series of test trials intended to help GM and plaintiffs define settlement options in 234 injury and death lawsuits consolidated in Manhattan federal court.
One of the two cases, which had been set for a Sept. 12 trial, was filed by Virginia resident Stephanie Cockram, who sued GM over injuries she said she sustained in a June 28, 2011 single-vehicle crash while driving a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt.
Another trial over claims made by Kentucky resident Amy Norville, who crashed her Saturn Ion in 2013 swerving to avoid a deer on the road, was scheduled for later this year.
Cockram’s case would have been the fourth trial on the issue. The first was voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs during the trial, and GM was cleared of liability in two others.
“We have an agreement to settle the last two federal bellwether cases,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said according to wire service reports. The bellwether trials have been “extremely helpful” in part because they showed “juries care deeply about the cause and contributing factors of each accident and the merits of the claims,” Cain added.
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Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the new settlements indicate that GM is interested in attempting resolution of both the federal and various state cases that they believe have merit.
Despite these settlements GM’s legal ignition-switch-related problems are far from settled.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a second batch of cases started before GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009 could go to trial. GM has appealed the ruling but chances of a reversal of the decision are not considered to be very good.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself GM Recall Survivors is putting up a billboard in Detroit aimed at reminding the company about its promise to improve its safety record.
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The billboard from the Survivors along Interstate 75 and reads: “Let’s make sure they never forget.” The billboard shows six people who died in crashes.
Last year GM reported it had settled 1,385 death and injury cases for $275 million and a class-action shareholders’ lawsuit for $300 million.
The company paid nearly $600 million to settle 399 claims made to a fund it established, covering 124 deaths and 275 injuries.
The group of survivors is also pressing for additional legislation that would require car dealers to tell car owners about the information in technical bulletins circulated by manufacturers.
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“Dealers constantly receive technical bulletins from car companies about issues, but disclosing these issues to their customers isn’t something that they are allowed to do under their franchise agreements. The Amber Rose Bill will change this practice and give local dealerships permission to share what they know with all consumers,” noted the group’s web site.