A Danbury lawyer who has been active in the national class action involving the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is taking on another giant case.
Agostino Ribeiro, a partner at Ventura, Ribeiro & Smith, has teamed up with Missouri lawyer Dan DeFeo and Louisiana attorney Ronnie Pention to bring legal claims against General Motors over its recalls for ignition-switch defects.
The team has already met with hundreds of clients throughout the country, including several in Connecticut, who suffered damages stemming from the defects ranging from $5,000 to over $100,000. Nearly 60 lawsuits, all with multiple plaintiffs, have already been filed by other lawyers in various districts, including California, New York, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois and Louisiana.
“We got involved in the case because it’s very similar in many respects to what has been going on with BP,” said Ribeiro, referring to the fact that General Motors, like BP, has vowed to vigorously defend against any actions filed in either state or federal court.
GM has recalled 2.6 million cars to fix ignition-switch defects that, by shutting off engines and preventing air bags from deploying, have been blamed for 13 deaths. Most of the lawsuits allege that GM failed to disclose the defect to customers, who seek lost value of cars they owned plus other economic damages.
When they heard of the liability that GM faces, Ribeiro and Penton decided to join forces with DeFeo, who had worked with Penton in the past.
In late April, GM filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to pave the way for bankruptcy protection. The company, in a separate motion, has asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber to decide whether class actions against it can be barred entirely under a provision of its Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009.
But even if the company wins an order to block some lawsuits, Ribiero said he and other members of their litigation team are exploring claims that could get around that. For example, if they can establish that the company knew of the defects before the 2009 bankruptcy, they could still pursue claims.
“If you can prove fraud, there will be a pretty good battle,” said Leah Walsh, an attorney with Ribeiro’s firm. Among claims they are considering are breach of warranty; Connecticut lemon law claims; Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act claims; and claims under the Uniform Commercial Code, which governs transactions in goods, including automobiles.