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As a growing number of General Motors recall lawsuits continue to be filed nationwide by individuals who suffered injuries or economic damages as a result of the recent ignition switch recalls, the federal judge presiding over the litigation has outlined the leadership structure for plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established coordinated proceedings for all lawsuits filed against General Motors (GM) in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, centralizing the cases before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the courts.
According to an order (PDF) issued by Judge Furman on July 18, the court has adopted a structure for plaintiffs leadership roles, where a small group of GM recall lawyers will be appointed to perform certain tasks during the litigation that benefit all plaintiffs.
Judge Furman indicates that three attorneys will serve as Co-Lead Counsel, formulating and presenting the plaintiffs’ positions on substantive and procedural issues during the litigation. In addition, a group of ten lawyers will be appointed to serve on the a Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, assisting lead counsel during discovery, document review, trial and with other issues as needs arise. One attorney based in New York will also be appointed to serve as Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel, responsible for facilitating communications with the Court and counsel in the MDL, as well as with the court in GM’s on-going bankruptcy proceedings.
Lawyers wishing to serve in these various leadership position have until July 28 to apply, and will have the opportunity to speak on the issue during an upcoming status conference scheduled for August 11.
General Motors Lawsuits Over Ignition Switch Recall
All of the cases involve similar allegations, stemming from GM ignition switch recalls issued this year, which have impacted several million Chevy, Saturn, Pontiac and other vehicles.
Faulty ignition switches may cause the car to suddenly shut off if heavy keys are used or if the ignition is jarred, such as may occur during a crash. If the vehicle suddenly shuts off, it may cause the driver to lose control or could result in the airbags no deploying when needed to prevent serious injury in an accident.
The automaker 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.
It is ultimately expected that thousands of personal injury, wrongful death and consumer class action lawsuits will be brought as a result of accidents caused by the defects and vehicle owners who have suffered economic harm caused by depreciation of their vehicle’s value due to the ignition switches.
General Motors has already agreed to provide compensation to injury victims in accidents where airbags failed to deploy, resulting in personal injury or death. A victim’s compensation 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.