A spokesman for GM called the Dec. 28 dismissal of two cases against it vindication of the company’s class-action litigation strategy.
“The decision reinforces our approach to contest cases that lack merit, while being open to fair resolution of cases that have more merit according to the facts and the law,” GM spokesman David Caldwell said in a statement.
Amid reports that it had installed faulty-ignition switches rather than spend pennies to correct the problem, GM began a worldwide recall in February 2014 of what would ultimately add up to 30 million of its 2005-10 Chevy Cobalts, Pontiacs, Saturns and other models.
The Center for Auto Safety has attributed more than 300 deaths to the glitch, though GM estimates that 15 fatalities “may be linked” to the defects.
GM faced hundreds of lawsuits over the recall, and the cases were then consolidated in New York and divided into categories for multidistrict litigation.
Apart from the cases that it settled, GM has been largely successful in several “bellwether” trials where one driver’s accident represents similar cases.
Most of the lawsuits against GM involve airbags that failed to deploy — allegedly because the power failures from the ignition-switch glitch disabled them. But another 213 plaintiffs were involved in crashes where the airbags were in the run position. These drivers said the ignition defect switched their airbag systems twice: first from “run” to “off,” causing or exacerbating crashes, and then rotated back to run.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman rejected this legal theory Thursday, dismissing bellwether suits by Texas drivers Vivian Garza and Ruby Greenroad. For Garza, who was driving a 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt, it was her first time driving on ice. She said she was unable to turn her steering wheel to avoid colliding with a Ford Mustang that had crashed ahead of her into the guardrail. The Cobalt subsequently struck the guardrail as well.
Greenroad, the other unsuccessful plaintiff in the Thursday ruling, was 89 and was taking anti-vertigo medication, at the time of her crash in 2013. Her 2007 Chevrolet veered off the road, into a guardrail, then off the overpass and into the ground below.
“Significantly, neither plaintiffs nor their experts cite any evidence suggesting that double ignition switch rotation has occurred in the real world,” the 25-page opinion states. “Nor did (or could) they conduct any experiments that would tend to show that double switch rotation is anything more than a theoretical possibility.” (Parentheses in original.)
GM spokesman Caldwell cheered the ruling. “We are pleased the court recognized the lack of merit in these types of cases,” Caldwell said in a statement. “We expect to file additional motions to conclude other cases like these, in which the airbags deployed.”
Garza’s attorney Robert Hilliard has not responded to an email seeking comment.
Thursday’s ruling came two years after GM vaulted liability for a 15-car pileup on an icy Crescent City Connection Bridge.
Allegations of perjury also helped GM duck claims by Oklahoma postal worker Robert Scheuer, and the automaker prevailed against two other Texas lawsuits filed against it in state court.