GM prevailed once again after jurors in US District Court in Manhattan failed to award any settlement money to drivers who held the automaker responsible for wrecks due to faulty ignition switches. This was the 2nd straight victory for General Motors and is seen as “boosting the company’s outlook for resolving hundreds of similar cases on more favorable terms.”
The latest case to be tried involved the crash of Dionne Spain’s 2007 Saturn Sky owned by Dionne Spain on a New Orleans bridge in 2014 during a rare Louisiana ice storm. Although the car was found to have the ignition switch defect discovered in millions of other GM models, the jury determined that while, “Spain’s car was “unreasonably dangerous” and deviated from the company’s performance standards,” the defect had nothing to do with her accident.
The trial was the second of 6 “bellwether” cases, so called because they are used to test strategies. Afterwards, Randall Jackson, lead lawyer for the plaintiff stated that despite the verdict, he and his team were “pleased that the jury agreed that we proved that our client’s vehicle was defective, that it was unreasonably dangerous, and that GM failed to use reasonable care to provide an adequate warning of that danger to consumers, including our clients.”
In the meantime, it should be noted that even before deliberations, US District Judge Jesse Furman threw out Spain’s key fraud claim against GM this week at the end of witness testimony, stating she had not presented enough evidence to show that the company made false or misleading statements to her about the defect. He also threw out additional claims before the trial, including a demand for punitive damages.
General Motors has already shelled out more than $2 billion to resolve legal issues stemming from the ignition switch scandal, including $900 million to end a criminal probe by the U.S. government; $575 million to settle a shareholder suit and more than 1,380 civil cases by victims; and $595 million through a victims’ compensation fund outside of court. However, it is challenging suits that it believes wrongfully blame the flaw for crashes, injuries and deaths.
In Spain’s case, it was clearly determined that the ice storm was to blame for her accident, in which she and her passenger, Lawrence Barthelemy, suffered only minor injuries, while the car only suffered scratches, and was not dented. In addition, GM attorney Mike Brock pointed out that the pair didn’t report other health problems until weeks later, and that “Barthelemy’s back pain was the result of sitting in jail for several days for an unrelated traffic violation, rather than the crash.”