Smiley & Smiley, LLP

Trial to begin in defective product ignition switch case

So far, there have been at least 124 deaths and scores of serious injuries, some of them occurring in New York, attributed to a faulty ignition switch in General Motors vehicles. The company admitted fault in a federal probe recently settled. General Motors admitted that it hid the existence of the defective product to consumers and falsely represented to them that vehicles with the defect posed "no safety concern.''

Those admissions are sticking to GM in a pending federal court trial in Manhattan. A GM vehicle owner who allegedly suffered serious injuries in an accident caused by the defect filed the suit. The plaintiff, an injured postal worker, claims that the evidence will show that General Motors made a calculating decision to knowingly install the faulty switches with full knowledge that it was putting lives at risk.

The switch could be bumped into an "accessory" position where it tends to shut off the engine. It also turned off the power steering, brakes and airbags. When this happens while the vehicle is accelerating on the highway, serious crashes can occur. The plaintiff alleges that GM executed a cover-up and fraudulent scheme that lasted over a decade, while deaths and injuries continued to accumulate.

The trial is the first of six "bellwether" trials to be held in Manhattan on the ignition switch issue. The success or failure of the cases will soon tell the ultimate fate of the other claims lined up in courts throughout the country on the same issue. Extraordinarily large verdicts in early cases my point to an all-out offensive by plaintiffs who will be assured in using the same litigation strategies.

A poor showing or very low verdict in this first bellwether case in the New York federal court may indicate poor prospects to other plaintiffs, who may then agree to minimal settlements or to dropping the cases altogether. The plaintiff is alleging a permanent partial disability, resulting in a permanent diminishment of wages, along with future medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Of course, the plaintiff must always prove that the defective product caused the accident and the plaintiff's injuries.

Source: claimsjournal.com, "GM Faulty-Switch Trial Begins With Claim of Deadly Cover-Up", Erik Larson and Margaret Cronin Frisk, Jan. 15, 2016

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