Lawyers for plaintiffs suing General Motors over its faulty ignition switches are seeking alternatives to a plan to trial five earlier test cases in federal litigation against the carmaker, after a first trial was prematurely dismissed.
In a letter sent last week to the US District Judge Jesse Furman, who oversees the cases, the lawyers said going to trial on the remaining cases set for this year may not be the most efficient way to advance the resolution of hundreds of remaining injury and death claims. “GM needs no assistance from a jury’s verdict to determine settlement value given its years-long disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars of settlement monies to thousands of victims,” the lawyers wrote. In a statement, GM spokesman Jim Cain said the company believed the current plan “remains the best process to inform settlement value for the remaining cases.” The carmaker’s faulty switches are linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths and GM has paid around 2 billion dollars in related penalties and settlements. In consolidated litigation over common issues, it is typical to try a series of test, or bellwether, cases to help assess how jurors value the claims. Furman had set six bellwethers for federal injury and death cases.
At the beginning of the month, Lance Cooper, the lawyer who represents a number of plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed a motion challenging GM’s fund for the benefit of victims that sued the automaker. Cooper accused Robert Hilliard, an attorney leading federal litigations over the switch, closed the settlement mostly to his own benefit, as well as to the benefit of his own clients, rather than in favor of all plaintiffs. Judge Furman rejected his motion. Cooper’s challenge came two weeks after the first federal trial over the issue abruptly ended in the aftermath of the plaintiff’s voluntarily dismissing his case, following allegations that he may have given false testimony to jurors.
Given the highly individual nature of the cases, Hilliard and his co-lead counsel said they questioned the utility of trying all five bellwethers set for this year. While bellwethers are meant to help inform settlement talks, they said, much can be gleaned from GM’s earlier payouts. Plaintiffs were exploring all options, given recent developments, Hilliard added. “Should we have obtained a billion-dollar verdict in the first trial, we would still be working on ways to resolve the entire docket, quickly and efficiently,” he said.