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One GM ignition switch lawsuit down, five to go

Creative Commons
A technician replaces an ignition switch mechanism

One of the six "bellwether" ignition switch lawsuits against General Motors has been dismissed, after evidence was presented showing that the plaintiff lied about the timing and extent of his injuries and his financial damages.

GM faces hundreds of lawsuits across the country alleging various harms from its delay of a massive recall for faulty ignition switches.  The switches can suddenly turn off if bumped, disabling the power steering and the airbags. 

The cases have been sent to one federal court, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where six will likely go to trial. The financial verdicts in those cases will be used to try to settle dozens of similar lawsuits, so all of them don't have to go to trial.

In the first case, chosen by plaintiffs' attorneys, the plaintiff, Robert Scheurer, claimed he was severely injured in an accident when the airbags in his Saturn Ion failed to deploy.

Scheurer also said he lost his "dream home" because his injuries prevented him from finalizing the purchase.

Attorneys for General Motors submitted evidence showing that Scheurer was already partially disabled prior to the accident.  Attorneys also showed that Scheurer lost the home because he tried to use a fake check to buy it.

The case was dismissed, with no award to Scheurer.

The next case, chosen by General Motors, is scheduled to go to trial in March. Of this case, GM says:

Plaintiffs Dionne Spain and Lawrence Barthelemy are suing GM LLC for injuries allegedly sustained in a January 24, 2014 motor vehicle accident on an icy bridge in New Orleans. At least thirty-eight (38) other vehicles had accidents on the same bridge that evening due to black ice weather conditions. The other vehicles involved includes a police cruiser and ambulance. This was a very low-speed crash and there is no claim about airbag non- deployment. Rather, the claim is the switch rotated causing a loss of control.

Most of the lawsuits before the New York court do not involve fatalities.  

General Motors set up a special program in 2014 that did not require claimants to go to trial in order to receive compensation for deaths or injuries.  And, unlike what happens at trial, contributory negligence was not considered.  

That means if someone was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of an accident, was speeding, or drunk, that was not considered.

Administrators for the special program note that 61% of the 399 claims that were approved included "clear evidence" of one or more examples of contributory negligence.

GM paid out a total of $594,535,752 from the special compensation fund.

General Motors says 80% of the 26-million-plus vehicles with defective ignition switches have been repaired.  The automaker says it will continue to push to reach a 100% completion rate.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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