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Discovery Moving Forward in Lawsuits Over GM Recalls

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal General Motors ignition switch lawsuits has laid out the initial discovery plan to begin moving forward with cases filed nationwide.

In June, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established coordinated proceedings for all lawsuits filed against General Motors (GM) over the ignition switch problems, centralizing cases filed nationwide before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York as part of an MDL, or Multi-District Litigation.

All of the complaints stem from General Motors recalls issued this year involving ignition switch problems on certain Chevrolet, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles.

The defective ignition switches have been blamed on hundreds of accidents nationwide, where the vehicles may suddenly shut off if heavy keychains are used or if the ignition is jolted, such as may occur in a crash. This may prevent the airbags from deploying, increasing the risk of serious injury or death.

At the time the litigation was centralized, fifteen actions pending in six different districts were consolidated to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges on the same issues and to serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the courts.

According to the latest update (PDF) provided by the U.S. JPML on August 15, nearly 100 additional cases were transferred into the MDL during the first two months. However, as GM recall lawyers continue to review and file cases, it is ultimately expected that several thousand lawsuits may eventually be centralized before Judge Furman.

GM Recall Litigation Early Discovery

Following a status conference held last week, Judge Furman issued an order (PDF) on September 10, directing GM and Delphi Automotive Systems to turn over all the relevant, non-privileged documents the company gave to Congress and the NHTSA regarding the recalls.

The companies have until October 2 to turn the documents over, which also would include documents given to independent investigator Anton Valukas, who determined that a “pattern of incompetence” led to GM failing to recall the vehicles for more than a decade.

In a separate preservation of parts order (PDF) issued on September 3, Judge Furman indicated that the parties must retain and preserve relevant parts from the recalled vehicles, such as the ignition switch parts, impact air bag wiring harnesses, power steering motors and others. The company only has to preserve parts from 1% of the total vehicles recalled.

As the GM recall litigation remains in the early stages, Judge Furman has scheduled additional status conferences for October 2, November 6, and December 15 of this year, and January 9, 2015.

Ignition Switch Accidents, Injuries, Deaths

GM has acknowledged that at least 16 deaths and more than 60 accidents may be linked to the problem. However, federal investigators, consumer watchdog groups, and even some GM officials, indicate that the number is likely to climb as more information becomes known. Much of that information may come out in the discovery proceedings involving the GM litigation.

In response to the claims, General Motors has already agreed to provide compensation to injury victims in accidents where airbags failed to deploy, resulting in personal injury or death. The GM settlement fund has been established for cases for injuries and deaths among drivers or passengers in one of the recalled vehicles, as well as pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles involved in accidents with recalled GM cars.

In the first month alone, family members of more than 100 people filed wrongful death claims with the settlement fund.

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Image via Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

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