GM settles two faulty ignition-switch cases

General Motors (GM) has settled two so-called "bellwether" cases of defective ignition switches involved in accidents.

Both of the lawsuits claimed injuries caused by accidents linked to faulty ignition switches that could slip from the "On" to the "Off" position.

The automaker settled the two cases, one of which was set to go to trial Sept. 12, for undisclosed amounts, GM spokesman Jim Cain said in an emailed statement.

Bob Hilliard, lead counsel for personal injury and death cases related to ignition switches, said in a statement the first phase of so-called “bellwether” cases has been completed.

“Judge (Jesse M.) Furman’s insistence that the parties keep a ‘fair but aggressive’ pace allowed for one of the single biggest MDLs (multidistrict litigation) in U.S. history to reach this point in only 2 short years. Its complexity and massiveness cannot be overstated.”

The cases are among several so-called "bellwether" trials meant to test the legal boundaries of the hundreds of claims against GM. The suits were brought by people who either rejected or chose not to pursue settlements through a special compensation fund that awarded about $595 million to surviving victims and families of people who died in accidents brought on by the defective switches.

One bellwether case that went to trial in a federal court resulted in a jury verdict in GM’s favor.

Another case was dismissed when evidenced surfaced that the person who filed the lawsuit had committed fraud. Last month a Texas jury found that an ignition switch on a 2007 Saturn Sky did not cause a 2011 crash that killed one person and injured another.

Three cases have now settled before trial. "We have learned that juries care deeply about the cause and contributing factors of each accident, and the merits of the claims," Cain said. "Importantly, they have carefully considered engineering and other evidence, not just the mistakes GM has already admitted, and they’re holding plaintiffs to their burden of proof. That’s helping all of the parties achieve their common goal: the fair and timely resolution of lawsuits."

GM recalled 2.6 million small cars in 2014 to replace the defective switches, which were responsible for at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries in  small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

The high-profile ignition switch recall crisis occurred in the first year of GM CEO Mary Barra’s tenure and tested the automaker’s reputation for safety and transparency. Barra, who testified before congressional panels twice, apologized publicly several times for the company’s missteps, revamped the company’s safety and compliance procedures and set up an independent victim’s compensation fund.

That fund, overseen by well-known disaster compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, offered nearly $595 million to surviving families of those killed and to 275 people injured in crashes. Feinberg’s staff reviewed 4,343 claims filed after Aug. 1, 2014.

The company has paid more than $2 billion in fines and settlements. More "bellwether" suits are scheduled for next year.


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