A federal judge has thrown out two cases against GM over defective ignition switches that have been linked to at least 124 deaths.
GM failed to disclose that the ignition switches in some of its cars were defective and that they could rotate to the off position, causing cars to stall and airbags to fail to deploy.
The ignition switch defect was the cause of at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries. This defect prompted GM to recall over 2.7 million vehicles in 2014, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.
GM has already paid an estimated $2.5 billion in penalties and settlements, including $900 million to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The $2.9 billion paid out by GM thus far did not resolve the current litigation.
Here, the plaintiffs claimed that their GM ignition switches may have rotated from “run” to “accessory” or “off,” which caused accidents or made them worse. The plaintiffs argued that the switches then rotated back to the run position before the impact, which would explain why the airbags deployed.
The plaintiffs submitted expert testimony that contended that the switches may have turned back to “run” before the airbags deployed. Manhattan District Court Judge Jesse Furman excluded this expert testimony, ruling that it was unreliable because it relied more on unproven statements and “speculation than it does on actual scientific or technical expertise.”
GM argued that the crashes at issue had other causes, including an icy road and one of the drivers being 89 years old and suffering from benign positional vertigo.
Judge Furman’s ruling stated that the one expert witness that the plaintiffs used testified that he only knew of two crashes where the ignition switches rotated twice — the two accidents at issue in these two cases. The judge noted that his role was “to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony and to make certain that an expert . . . employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field” and stated that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that the specific defect alleged was more than a “theoretical possibility.”
Here, Furman dismissed claims by Vivian Garza, who was 19 when her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed on an icy road in February 2011, and by the son of Ruby Greenroad, whose Cobalt crashed in January 2013.
This decision is likely to affect the hundreds of other pending suits against GM making similar claims. As of November 30, there were 1,723 unresolved personal injury and wrongful death claims in the multi-district litigation, including 213 cases where the airbags deployed. Judge Furman oversees the multi-district litigation. Plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Hilliard stated that, “The ruling today reflects what we have always known about this category of cases: they are damn tough to prove in court. . . . But GM’s defect still may very well be the truth of the cause of the accidents.”