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Plaintiff ‘Pulls The Brake’ on First of Six GM Bellwether Trials

Published onFeb 08, 2016
Plaintiff ‘Pulls The Brake’ on First of Six GM Bellwether Trials

General Motors Co.’s failure to remedy a deadly defect in their motor vehicles has resulted in an influx of 4,180 claims of injury or death resulting from the defects. The defective vehicles, built between 2003 and 2007, contained faulty ignition switches, causing airbag nondeployment. A New York federal judge has ordered a series of bellwether trials in order to encourage a quick resolution of the cases. These trials are to include a sampling of wrongful death, personal injury, and mild-to-moderate personal claims from six different vehicle models.

The plaintiffs have gotten off to a rocky start, as the first of these cases ended in GM’s favor on January 11, 2016, after the driver, an Oklahoma mail carrier, was accused of lying to the court. The driver in this case was advised by his dealership to remove his key from the keychain to prevent the additional weight from accidentally turning the ignition switch. The driver testified that he took this step to ensure his safety. GM attorneys found evidence that he, in fact, left the keychain on his car key. They also provided evidence that the driver’s claim that the accident caused his financial decline and the loss of his home was fraudulent. In fact, the driver used a doctored federal government check stub as ‘proof of funds’ when he purchased the home, and the accident was not the cause of his eviction. Judge Jesse Furman advised that this evidence would be devastating to the plaintiff’s case. The parties have since stipulated to a voluntary dismissal with prejudice, and the driver and his wife are preparing to face criminal charges for perjury.

The second bellwether trial is set for March 14, 2016. According to the procedures set forth by the court, the parties must meet and confer in good faith as to the applicability of the pretrial decisions made in the first trial. Given the unique circumstances surrounding the first trial, it is unlikely that the parties will come to an agreement. Plaintiffs will have a strong chance of succeeding in an argument as to why certain decisions should not be binding on the second trial.

The evidence of fraud in this case does not have a significant effect on the outcome of future cases. However, as the first of only six trials set for 2016, it is disheartening for the thousands of other plaintiffs counting on the Bellwether trials to gauge how much they will recover from GM. Of the many claims filed, there were bound to be a few ‘bad apples,’ but no one expected the first trial heard to be one of them. Despite the outcome of the first bellwether trial, Plaintif’s counsel is bringing focus on the main issue behind the case. He says, “regardless of how GM paints it, the heart of this case is that Mr. Scheuer’s air bag did not deploy…and whatever dirt they throw at plaintiff and his wife doesn’t change that.”

Candice Diah is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. Her hometown is Nassau, Bahamas, where she worked in the compliance department of a financial advising firm. She holds a Bachelor of Science in International Business and Marketing from the University of Tampa and studied Business and Luxury Brand Management at The American Business School of Paris in Paris, France. She is passionate about both business and international law. 

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