First trial starts in General Motors ignition switch recall case
Jan 12, 2016 01:10 AM EST
The first of six planned civil trials has started on Monday in a federal court in New York City aimed at testing legal boundaries of claims against General Motors (GM) over faulty ignition switch linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths.
Judge M. Furman questioned prospective jurors on Monday trial, in a search for people who could be fair and impartial in lawsuits affecting over 1,000 people, U.S. News & World Report reported. The six planned trials were scheduled over the next year to narrow legal issues in lawsuits. Opening statements were scheduled on Tuesday.
Hundreds of lawsuits were consolidated in Manhattan federal court, but the trial focuses on an Oklahoma crash in May 2014 that injured Robert Scheuer. In the lawsuit, Scheuer claims he was injured when his 2003 Saturn Ion ran off the highway, became airborne and then struck the ground and trees. The front air bag did not deploy in the crash.
Scheuer, who suffers continuing neck and back pain as a result of the crash, claims that a faulty ignition switch in his GM's Saturn Ion prevented the air bag from deploying. He claims that GM's ignition switch defect turned off the ignitions while the car was in operation, thus disabling power steering, braking, and airbags.
GM denies the claims, arguing there is no proof that the switch caused or exacerbated Scheuer's injuries. GM spokesman Jim Cain told Reuters, "Each bellwether case will be tried on its own merits".
Judge M. Furman said GM plans to counter that the ignition was not the cause of the crash, that airbags were not designed to expand in the kind of crash that Scheuer experienced and that they would have made no difference if they had.
GM announced in 2014 that the ignition switch defect in Chevy Cobalts and other small cars necessitated an unprecedented recall. But the carmaker knew about the defect as early as 2001, before the affected vehicles even went into production, the Consumerist reported.
GM claims that upper management at the company did not learn about the problem until shortly before issuing a recall in 2014. GM denied any sort of cover-up even though documents showed that at least one current GM VP was made aware of the defect in 2005.
Scheuer says GM put him at risk by delaying the recall and doing too little for customers. The plaintiff said he will seek punitive damages based on GM's intentional post-bankruptcy conduct.
In addition to the six cases in New York federal court, GM still faces more than 200 lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada related to death and injury linked to the ignition switch defect.