(CN) – Against a tide of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that estimates have tied to 300 driver deaths, General Motors defeated a case Wednesday meant to determine the fate of thousands of others.
A federal jury in Manhattan looking at the circumstances of a 2014 car crash in Louisiana cleared GM of liability this morning after taking less than one day to deliberate.
Cases like Dionne Spain and Lawrence Barthelemy’s have been piling up since GM announced its Feb. 7, 2014, recall of various 2005-10 vehicles, including Chevy Cobalts, Pontiacs and Saturns, amid reports that defective ignition switches caused these models to lose power and suffer air-bag failure.
About two weeks before the recall, Spain and Barthelemy’s 2007 Saturn Sky wound up in a 15-car pileup on the Crescent City Connection Bridge.
Though the winter weather had led Gov. Bobby Jindal to declare a state of emergency on the night of Spain and Barthelemy’s accident – Jan. 24, 2014 – the couple pinned the blame on their GM ignition switch.
With GM facing hundreds of thousands of similar cases consolidated in New York, a bankruptcy judge found last year that the auto giant’s Chapter 11 reorganization to New GM shielded it from billions in civil liabilities.
Federal prosecutors let the company pay $900 million to settle its criminal liabilities months later, and the only civil cases remaining involve collisions that postdate GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.
Spain and Barthelemy’s trial began inauspiciously on March 14, two months after the first of six so-called bellwether cases against GM ended with plaintiff Robert Scheuer dismissing his claims voluntarily.
Jurors today found that Spain and Barthelemy’s car did have the faulty switch, but that the defect did not cause their accident.
GM applauded the outcome in a statement, saying the “very minor accident … had absolutely nothing to do with the car’s ignition switch.”
Estimates by the Center for Auto Safety, which GM disputes, attribute more than 300 driver deaths to the defect, which would have cost pennies to correct.
During the trial, an attorney Randall Jackson had argued that GM waited years to commence the recall despite reports of problems for years.
A 2014 report on the scandal by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, whom GM tapped for an internal investigation, slammed the automaker’s 11-year “pattern of incompetence and neglect,” Jackson said.