Jury Finds GM Car's Ignition Switch Not to Blame in Crash

A jury decided Wednesday that a General Motors ignition switch wasn’t to blame for a 2014 car crash in Louisiana, and no legal damages were awarded to the case’s two plaintiffs.
A jury decided Wednesday that a General Motors ignition switch wasn’t to blame for a 2014 car crash in Louisiana, and no legal damages were awarded to the case’s two plaintiffs. Photo: Associated Press

A jury found a General Motors Co. ignition switch installed in a car “unreasonably dangerous” but stopped short of awarding damages in a case arising from litigation consolidated in a New York federal court.

The jurors’ verdict on Wednesday found a 2007 Saturn Sky involved in an early 2014 Louisiana crash defective, determining its ignition switch deviated from the Detroit auto maker’s specifications or performance standards. The jury also found the company failed to warn consumers about the faulty switch.

But the jury didn’t blame the switch for the accident, so no legal damages were awarded to the case’s two plaintiffs. The jury found injuries or damages the car’s driver and passenger suffered weren’t “proximately caused by a characteristic” of the Saturn Sky.

The case stemmed from a car that crashed into a guardrail on an icy road in New Orleans in January 2014. The driver and passenger sued GM, GM 0.11 % blaming the car’s defective ignition switch for minor injuries suffered in the crash.

The verdict concluded the second of six trials slated for this year aimed at setting patterns for remaining legal settlements related to a defective switch on roughly 2.6 million older vehicles GM recalled in early 2014. The switch, now linked to 124 deaths, can slip from the run position and disable safety features including air bags.

The verdict suggests additional trials will be needed before a clear pattern of results emerges for the purposes of negotiating settlements in remaining cases. GM has fared well so far in the legal proceedings while plaintiffs’ lawyers have failed to score outright victories. A judge dismissed the first so-called bellwether case that went to trial earlier this year after GM uncovered evidence that the plaintiffs had committed fraud. That case was selected by plaintiffs’ lawyers. GM selected the second case.

Wednesday’s verdict prompted both plaintiffs’ lawyers and GM to claim victory.

“We are pleased that the jury agreed that we proved that our client’s vehicle was defective, that it was unreasonably dangerous, and that GM failed to use reasonable care to provide an adequate warning of that danger to consumers, including our clients,” said Randall Jackson, a Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP lawyer who represented the plaintiffs. “We think that the jury’s findings are a victory for consumers and will advance the cause of all of the plaintiffs in the [consolidated litigation].”

GM emphasized the jury’s finding that the switch didn’t cause the crash. “The jurors studied the merits of the case and saw the truth: This was a very minor accident that had absolutely nothing to do with the car’s ignition switch,” a GM spokesman said. “The evidence was overwhelming that this accident—like more than 30 others that occurred in the same area that night—was caused by the driver losing control on an icy bridge during a statewide winter weather emergency.“

The next bellwether ignition-switch trial, selected by plaintiffs’ lawyers, is scheduled for May.

The Louisiana case, like the first trial, featured unexpected hiccups. U.S. Judge Jesse Furman dismissed two jurors in the second trial amid concerns they were falling asleep during court proceedings.

GM is still dealing with fallout from the defective switch, even after reaching settlements with the U.S. Justice Department, shareholders and consumers totaling more than $ 2 billion. The company has admitted to misleading regulators and consumers about the faulty switch.

A report GM commissioned by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas found GM failed for more than a decade to recall vehicles with the faulty switch despite internal evidence of a safety problem. Mr. Valukas found a pattern of incompetence and neglect among GM employees dealing with the switch but no intentional coverup of the defect.

Write to Mike Spector at [email protected]

WSJ.com: US Business

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