General Motors had a bad week last week – with its CEO Mary Barra grilled by a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives about the company’s allegedly defective ignition switch – topped off by her being made fun of in the opening skit of Saturday Night Live.

While her company’s strategy was to delay most comments until an internal company investigation is complete, a plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit is moving forward.

At this point there are several cases filed across the United States against GM. The grounds for the lawsuits are similar to many of the concerns raised in Congress.

“GM officials have knowingly produced a defective ignition switch system for at least a decade and installed them in millions of cars that it then sold to an unsuspecting public,” according to a recent motion filed by the plaintiffs in a California case. “GM officials took affirmative steps to conceal these defects from the public since at least as early as 2006. In failing to disclose critical information about the safety of millions of its vehicles, GM has shown a blatant disregard for public welfare and safety, risking the lives of everyone on the road.”

The plaintiffs claim the defective system can lead to the loss of engine power and the disabling of airbags, power steering and even brakes.

The cases are now in the early stages. Altogether about 30 cases have been filed – most of them in federal court in California.

One of the recent events in the litigation is that a motion was filed with a judicial panel to transfer cases to the Central District of California, which is where the Toyota accelerator case was heard. That case ended in a settlement of $1.1 billion. Responses to the motion on the GM case are due on April 25.

In addition, GM has recalled an increasing number of cars in response to the ignition system issue. On March 28, GM added another 971,000 vehicles to the recall, after a federal class action lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California. The company had earlier recalled some 1.6 million cars.

As of now, the number of possible plaintiffs can reach about 2.6 million – given the number of cars that could be impacted by the allegedly defective system.

And what does GM think of the class action lawsuit? GM spokesman Greg A. Martin said in a statement on Tuesday, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

GM is hiring Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney who was special master to the victims in the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as working on the BP oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombings, to help it in the case. It also retained a former U.S.  Attorney, Anton Valukas, for an internal investigation.

The lawsuit relates to the 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice, 2005-2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, and 2007 Saturn Sky.

“Our lawsuit is on behalf of people who purchased or leased one of these cars,” Adam J. Levitt, director at Grant & Eisenhofer and who leads the law firm’s Consumer Practice Group, said in an interview on Tuesday. “They sustained economic losses…We seek to hold GM accountable.”

He also claimed GM was involved in the “biggest cover-up in U.S. automotive history.” In fact, General Motors likely knew about the ignition switch issues starting in 2001 – but did not undertake the recall until this past February, according to InsideCounsel.

In a recent motion, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking the quicker release of more documents by GM in a motion to expedite discovery. It was presented to U.S. District Court Judge Jeffery S. White.

The attorneys want to get all of the documents GM has produced to Congress – to date. The plaintiffs also want GM to turn over those documents “that it may produce to the government on a going-forward basis in connection with this issue, and also to produce documents that GM is currently gathering pursuant to an accelerated internal investigation,” the motion said.

The defective key system has been linked to 31 crashes and 13 fatalities in the United States, according to a statement from Levitt’s law firm.

The class action lawsuit also seeks to force GM to “undertake a full repair and overhaul of the affected key systems so that all defective vehicles can have their value restored. Consumers are also seeking monetary compensation for the diminished value of their cars,” according to a statement from Grant & Eisenhofer.

Levitt, who is president of the Class Action Trial Lawyers, is no stranger to class action cases. Previously, Levitt was co-lead counsel in two major agricultural and biotech class action lawsuits that led to the recovery of more than $1 billion in damages. 


Further reading:

General Motors reveals it knew about ignition switch issues in 2001

GM CEO faces tough questions on recall issue

Toyota pays $1.2 billion to end government investigation into sudden acceleration claims