With a growing number of Chevrolet Bolt EV battery lawsuits being filed throughout the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that the auto maker sold electric vehicles with defective battery packs, which are prone to overheat and catch on fire, a motion has been filed to consolidate and centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
Chevrolet currently faces at least five separate class action lawsuits over Bolt battery effects, which are pending multiple 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 indicate 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 (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), seeking to centralize the cases before one judge.
The lawsuits involve defects in certain Bolt EV models recalled on November 13, 2020. By that time, GM had 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, causing five smoke inhalation injuries.
According to the Chevrolet Bolt EV recall issued by the manufacturer, the cells used in the 60 kWh 350 V lithium-ion battery that were installed in approximately 50,932 model year 2017 through 2018 and certain 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV vehicles are specific to the issue at hand.
To date, GM indicates the root cause is still being investigated and its part supplier determined the battery components are at risk of overheating and catching on fire when the battery is fully charged, or very close to full charge. However, an exact reason for the defect is unknown.
Due to the lack of discovery in finding the source of the battery problem, 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.
In one of the first complaints filed against GM in December 2020, plaintiffs claim General Motors not only knew, or should have known, of the battery defect, but that the company also delayed an investigation to increase profits while putting customer safety at risk.
The complaint alleges GM knew of the potential battery problems since July 2019, when it received the first report of a spontaneous fire occurring when charging a Chevy Bolt. However, rather than promptly opening an investigation, the manufacturer delayed an investigation to continue selling its remaining inventory before switching over to a new battery design for 2020 models, according to the lawsuit.
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.