GM vehicles roll along the assembly line at the DetroitHamtramck facility Bill Pugliano, Getty Images

GM Faces January Ignition Trial After US Court Ruling

New York federal judge says dismissal “is inappropriate when a reasonable jury could infer a causal link between the plaintiff’s injury and facts relating to a defendant’s conduct.”  

General Motors will face a January jury trial on allegations that injuries from a 2014 car crash arose from the automaker’s ignition-switch defect, a New York Federal judge ruled.

The December 30 decision sets the stage for the first jury trial on January 11 on the defect, which turns off airbag deployment and has been linked to 124 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The ruling underscores that GM continues to face litigation risk following the ignition-switch scandal, despite having reached settlements with hundreds of victims. 

Plaintiff Robert Scheuer blamed the defect for injuries suffered in a May 2014 crash when the airbag on his 2003 Saturn Ion failed to deploy.

GM sought to dismiss Scheuer’s case, arguing, among other points, that it is shielded from much litigation over the ignition defect because the defect arose from actions of “Old GM” prior to its 2009 bankruptcy. 

Although GM has admitted the link between the faulty ignition and airbag non-deployment, the company had also argued that there was no evidence Scheuer’s injuries arose from the ignition switch defect.

But judge Jesse Furman rejected GM’s arguments, saying dismissal “is inappropriate when a reasonable jury could infer a causal link between the plaintiff’s injury and facts relating to a defendant’s conduct.

“The question of causation is plainly one for the jury.”

The Scheuer case is considered a bellwether in the ignition scandal because the outcome could have consequences for similar cases. Thousands of people have claimed damages linked to the ignition defects, which GM has admitted it hid for years before recalling millions of vehicles last year.

In April 2014 GM initiated a compensation program for victims that promised to settle justified claims quickly while avoiding lengthy litigation.

The program reviewed 4,343 claims and concluded that 399 merited payment totaling $594.5 million. More than 90% of the compensation offers were accepted, the program said in a final report December 10.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016

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