Motion Filed to Centralize General Motors Lawsuits in MDL

In response to the growing number of lawsuits filed against General Motors (GM) over ignition switch problems, which have resulted in the recall of nearly 2.6 million vehicles and may have contributed to more than a dozen deaths, a request has been filed to centralize all federal litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.  

A motion (PDF) was filed last week with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), seeking to centralize all lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system involving General Motors’ failure to disclose the existence of a dangerous and defective ignition switch in many vehicles, which could cause the cars to suddenly shut off when heavy key rings are used or if the ignition is jarred.

If the ignition switches off while the vehicle is in use, it may cause the airbags not to deploy during an accident, increasing the risk of injury or death.

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GM Ignition Recall Lawsuits

In 2014, GM Recalled 2.6M Vehicles Due to Risk of Airbag Failure from Defective Ignition Switches.

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GM has admitted that it has known about the problem since 2001, and indicates that at least 13 deaths may have occurred due to airbag failures caused by the defective ignition switches. However, an independent review of accidents reported to the NHTSA suggests that hundreds of fatalities have occurred in accidents where airbags failed to deploy in vehicles that have been recalled.

Since announcing the recall in February, a number of personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death lawsuit and class action lawsuits have been filed against GM, with the litigation expected to grow over the coming months. Consolidating the cases before one judge for pretrial proceedings is designed to reduce the risk of duplicate discovery into common issues in all cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

The request to establish the GM recall MDL (multidistrict litigation) was filed by Katie Michelle McConnell, who indicates that the litigation should be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The U.S. JPML is expected to schedule oral arguments on the motion for an upcoming hearing session in Chicago on May 29 or in Kansas City, Kansas on July 31.

GM Recalls

GM faces mounting criticism and government investigations in the wake of the recalls, raising serious questions about how the auto maker failed to act on known information that the vehicles had a serious safety defect.

The initial recall was limited to about 778,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5s. However, the recall was later expanded to include some Saturn Ion and other vehicles. The recall was expanded again last week, raising the worldwide total to 2.59 million GM vehicles recalled due to ignition switch concerns.

Amid the increased scrutiny, GM has also announced several other recalls that are unrelated to the ignition switches, including potential engine fire risks, air bag problems, steering defects and failure to meet crash standards.

GM CEO Mary Barra went before congress twice this week to explain the company’s actions, testifying that she did not know why the recalls were not announced earlier, but promised to provide lawmakers with answers in the near future.

A congressional investigation also revealed that officials inside the NHTSA called for investigations into the problem twice since 2007, but were twice told there was no need by other officials in the agency.

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