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JPML To Consider Consolidation of Chevy Bolt Battery Lawsuits Before One Judge For Pretrial Proceedings

A panel of federal judges has agreed to hear oral arguments on whether all Chevrolet Bolt EV Battery lawsuits should be consolidated before one judge for pretrial proceedings, amid a growing number of complaints filed over a risk that the electric vehicle batteries may overheat and catch on fire.

Chevrolet currently faces at least five separate class action lawsuits over Bolt battery problems in three different U.S. District courts. However, each of the complaints raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging the lithium ion batteries not only pose a fire and injury risk, but also claiming the repair remedy provided by the manufacturer now limits the maximum state of charge and reduces the number of miles the vehicles can travel.

To avoid duplicative discovery into common issues in the claims and conflicting scheduling orders from different U.S. District Judges, a group of nine plaintiffs with cases pending in the Northern District of Illinois have filed a motion to transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) last month, seeking to “>centralize the Chevy Bolt battery cases before one judge.

In a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF) issued on February 27, the JPML announced it will hear oral arguments on the consolidation request during a March 25 hearing, which will be conducted by teleconference and videoconference from the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C., due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Chevrolet Bolt EV recall issued by the manufacturer in November 2020, the cells used in the 60 kWh 350 V lithium-ion battery were installed in approximately 50,932 model year 2017 through 2018 and certain 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV vehicles. GM has received a total of 12 reports of a Chevy Bolt battery overheating, emitting smoke or smoldering. Five of the reports resulted in actual fires starting in the engine compartment, and caused five smoke inhalation injuries.

GM offered customers a partial remedy, which includes limiting the EV battery charge to 90%, and instructing customers to park their vehicles outside and away from structures to avoid injuries or property damage in the case of a battery fire.

As a result of GM’s failure to fully remedy the defect, customers have claimed they would have purchased a different electric vehicle, or paid significantly less, due to the lack of battery capacity which limits the vehicles travel ability.

If the cases are consolidated, it is likely the presiding judge would create a bellwether trial program meant to send a series of test cases before juries to see how they process arguments and evidence likely to be used throughout the litigation, which could help parties potentially reach a settlement agreement that will avoid the need for individual cases to be set for trial nationwide.

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