General Motors Settles Two Bellwether Ignition Switch Cases

the switches are responsible for at least 124 deaths to date

General Motors Settles Two Bellwether Ignition Switch Cases
Image: General Motors
September 6, 2016

General Motors Co. (GM) has just settled two federal court cases related to its defective ignition switches, but its legal troubles over the switches are far from being over. GM has acknowledged that ignition switches in older cars could fall out of position without warning and shut off the engine and air bags.

Settled for an undisclosed amount, in both cases, the plaintiffs said they sustained serious injuries when the air bags in their vehicles didn't deploy, claims the plaintiffs' attorney Bob Hillard.

In the two cases most recently settled both involved women who weren't speeding, but were driving at slow speeds.

In the first case, Stephanie Cockram was driving her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt home from a friend's house when she lost control of her car and hit a wall. When her air bags didn't deploy, Cockram suffered a closed head injury, broken jaw and broken hip.

The second case, Amy Norville lost control of her 2003 Saturn when she swerved to avoid hitting a deer. When she tried to gain back control, she hit a tree, and the air bags didn't deploy. Amy broke her sternum and suffered multiple neck fractures.

The cases are among several so-called "bellwether" trials. They are testing the legal boundaries of hundreds of similar claims against GM. So far this year, one federal bellwether case was dropped before trial, GM won two, and three have been settled.

GM knew about problems with the switches for more than 10 years before it finally recalled 2.6 million vehicles worldwide in 2014 to replace the defective switches. The switches are responsible for at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries, according to a victims' fund set up by GM and administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.

GM has paid nearly $875 million to settle death and injury claims, including $600 million from Feinberg's fund and $275 million to settle 1,385 separate claims. GM also has paid $300 million to settle shareholder lawsuits. But many others are pursuing their claims in court.