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Lawsuits Over Chevy Bolt Batteries To Proceed Without Centralized Management in Federal Courts

A panel of federal judges has rejected a request to consolidate all Chevrolet Bolt EV battery lawsuits before one judge for pretrial proceedings, indicating that there are too few cases filed to date, and that the litigation can be coordinated more efficiently without the creation of a formal multidistrict litigation (MDL).

General Motors currently faces at least eight separate class action lawsuits over Chevy Bolt battery problems, which are pending in three different U.S. District courts.

Each of the complaints raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging the lithium ion batteries not only pose a fire and injury risk. Plaintiffs also allege that the Chevy Bolt battery repair remedy 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 filed a motion to transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in January, seeking to centralize the Chevy Bolt battery cases before one judge.

Following oral arguments held on March 25, the JPML issued an order denying transfer (PDF) on April 1, noting that five of the eight cases are already pending in the same district and that the parties have not demonstrated consideration of other methods of managing the litigation.

The litigation remains in its “nascent stages”, according to the panel, which indicates that “informal cooperation among the relatively few involved parties and courts is another practicable alternative to centralization.”

For now, the cases will continue forward individually in their respective U.S. District Courts. However, the Panel indicated that plaintiffs in any additional actions may be amenable to filing or transferring their cases to the Eastern District of Michigan, where most of the litigation is already pending.

According to the judges, they may consider the creation of a Chevrolet Bolt EV battery MDL if more cases are filed, and the courts refuse to allow the cases to be transferred.

Chevrolet Bolt Battery Problems

The litigation emerged after a Chevrolet Bolt EV battery recall was issued by General Motors in November 2020, due to defective 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.

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.

To address the problems with the Chevy Bolt batteries, 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.

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