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Can General Motors Escape Responsibility In Bellwether Trial And Other Ignition Switch Cases On The Horizon?

Not much was being decided over the holiday season, besides the inability for General Motors to get their way. A US judge Wednesday rejected the lawyers representing GM’s request for dismissal of the highly publicized “bellwether” case, which allegedly places responsibility for defective ignition switches to General Motor produced vehicles. Setting a trial for January 11th of this year, lots of executives probably did not have such a great New Years.

The judge, US District Jesse Furman from Manhattan, declared that the plaintiff, by the name of Robert Scheuer had enough evidence to carry the case to trial. He saw enough cause for a jury to hear the case about whether an ignition switch defect was responsible for the injuries he sustained in his 2003 Saturn Ion crash in 2014.

Scheuer’s Santa Ana car accident lawyer insists that when his car drove off the road in Oklahoma, and he hit a tree head on, his air bags didn’t deploy as they should. Lawyers claim it was the fault of GM’s faulty ignition switch that the airbags failed.

Lawyers for GM insist that the bankruptcy of 2009 was the reason the recall didn’t reach everyone. Furman wasn’t accepting their defense that it was the bankruptcy of 2009 that lead to the failure of Mr. Scheuer to know about the defect or to have his car recalled to correct the faulty ignition switch that could have saved him from the injuries sustained.

What is a bellwether trial and why this falls under the category?

Bellwether trials are trials where there are hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of individuals who have had a similar complaint. They are often used in product liability cases. A precursor to the overabundance of trials that can follow, they help the parties decide whether they should push to go to trial with the case, or find some way to settle it outside of court. The judge said Wednesday that the bellwether case was a viable one and something that should be investigated.

There are another six bellwether trials on the horizon that are all scheduled for this year. That could leave GM paying a hefty price, and putting it in jeopardy of losing millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.

Why are executives nervous?

The ruling of Furman allows the court to examine the practices and behaviors of GM systematically and how they handled the knowledge of the defective ignition switch. It permits the investigation into whether there was a cover-up and if so, to what scale it was initiated.

General Motors insists that the alleged accidents were not caused by their faulty ignition switch. Lawyers for GM declare that they have the evidence to prove their case, and are unfettered by what comes their way. Turning the argument away from why people were not warned about the ignition switch, to the fact that GM wasn’t responsible for the air bag not to deploy, may or may not work. That only gives the impression that they know they can’t argue the fact that GM didn’t let car owners know when they should have.

The problem? It is already known that there was a defect switch on Chevrolet Cobalts, Ions, and other GM made vehicles that lead to 2.6 million cars being fixed to correct the defect in 2014. To make matters worse, in September of this year, GM agreed to pay over $900 million dollars to end a US criminal probe into the ignition switch conduct. As many as 124 deaths have been attributed to the failed switch.

Every time that you get behind the wheel of a car you are putting your life in the hands of the auto industry who built it. From the tires to the body, you put your faith in the maker that it won’t lead you to meet your maker.

What we have learned, over the past several years, is that not only are car manufacturers not held accountable by any governmental agency to go to lengths to recall dangerous cars, it extends to tires as well.

With no overseeing of large scale recalls, there are many ways that a car or tire manufacturer can make the decision not to follow through with their responsibilities to the public. After the fact, it takes years of litigation and billions of dollars to hold them accountable for something that is pretty much in black and white.

The answer may be to make a more regulated system of recalls. The technology is there, it just isn’t cost effective for the automobile industry. If we want to ensure that a failed ignition switch isn’t responsible for the loss of life, there need to be some consequences more than just financial ones, for those who make the decision that lives are more important than dollars.

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