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GM Ignition Switch Trial Date Set for Jan 2016, as Lawsuits Continue to Mount

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal General Motors ignition switch recall lawsuits has scheduled the first bellwether trial to begin in early 2016. 

There are currently more than 100 personal injury, wrongful death and economic loss lawsuits filed against General Motors (GM) over problems associated with vehicles recalled earlier this year, but many expect that the number of cases will continue to increase over the coming year.

All of the complaints involve similar allegations that GM failed to address ignition switch problems, which may cause the vehicle to suddenly shut off if heavy key chains were used or if the ignition is jarred, which may occur in a crash. If the ignition switches off, this could prevent the airbags from deploying, increasing the risk of serious injury or death in an accident.

In June, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated proceedings for cases filed throughout the federal court system, centralizing the litigation before U.S District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues raised in the lawsuits, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, it has been expected that a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” cases. While the outcomes of these trials are not binding in other cases, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

Last week, Judge Furman issued an order setting the first GM recall trial date for January 11, 2016, which gives the parties just over a year to prepare the cases to go before a jury.

The bellwether date selected by Judge Furman falls between the two proposed dates provided by plaintiffs’ attorneys and GM. Plaintiffs’ attorneys had proposed that the first trial date be held in October 2015, while defense attorneys pushed for a later trial date that would begin in July 2016 date.

In proposals submitted earlier this month by each side, the parties also disagreed about the scope of the bellwether trials that should be conducted in the MDL

All of the complaints stem from General Motors recalls issued this year involving ignition switch problems on certain Chevrolet, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles. The initial recall impacted about 2.6 million vehicles worldwide, including Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Sky vehicles manufactured between 2003-2007. Federal investigators and an internal probe determined that GM officials had known about ignition switch problems in those vehicles for more than 10 years but failed to act to protect the public.

However, since then, GM has recalled millions of other vehicles for similar ignition switch problems that the company reportedly only recently discovered as a result of the ongoing controversy.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have said that the court’s bellwether plan should cover all wrongful death and personal injury claims resulting from all GM vehicles recalled due to ignition switch problems.

Judge Furman has reportedly not yet made a decision on what restrictions to place on bellwether case selection process.

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Image via Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

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