Stephen Yagman. (Photo: Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Plaintiffs who have sued General Motors Co. over defects in their cars, including disbarred civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman, are continuing to fight a federal panel’s decision to transfer their lawsuits to a coordinated proceeding in New York.
GM, facing an onslaught of lawsuits since recalling 2.6 million vehicles over ignition switch defects, has moved to transfer all the cases to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York. So far, the U.S. Judicial Council on Multidistrict Litigation has sent 101 cases to Furman for pretrial purposes.
But some plaintiffs are slamming the brakes on those transfers.
Yagman, released in 2010 after spending two years in federal prison on tax and bankruptcy fraud charges , is fighting the MDL panel’s transfer on Monday of a case he filed pro se against GM, claiming that an unspecified defect caused his 2007 Buick Lucerne to abruptly shut down twice.
After two trips to mechanics, Yagman is convinced that the problem is unrelated to any ignition problem. “GM is attempting to misuse the federal multidistrict litigation availability to get every case filed against GM bundled into multidistrict litigation and then sent to the Southern District of New York,” he said.
Two other plaintiffs’ lawyers, Steven Stolze of St. Louis-based Holland Groves and Vince Megna of Milwaukee’s Aiken & Scoptur, filed notices on Monday that they planned to oppose transfer of their lawsuits.
Stolze’s case involves four plaintiffs claiming both economic damages and personal injuries from accidents. One plaintiff is the sister of Joseph Harding Jr., who died when the 2006 Chevy Cobalt he was driving crashed in Stephensville, Mich. He was one of the 13 victims whom GM has acknowledged died due to the defect. Stolze, who filed a motion on Tuesday to remand the case to the 22d Judicial District of the City of St. Louis, Mo., did not return a call for comment.
Megna represents Erin Kandziora, who sued for economic damages associated with her 2010 Chevy Cobalt. Megna, who also has targeted the dealership that sold her the car, plans to seek remand to the Milwaukee County, Wis., Circuit Court, claiming it’s a “pretty small case” to be in the MDL.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys Robert Hilliard and Lance Cooper, who had planned to oppose transfer of some of their most high-profile cases, have switched gears. On June 18, a federal judge in Atlanta remanded Cooper’s case filed on behalf of the parents of Brooke Melton to Cobb County, Ga., State Court.
Hilliard, meanwhile, has voluntarily dismissed three cases, including one brought on behalf of Candice Anderson and the family of her fiancé, Gene Mikale Erickson, who died when the 2004 Saturn Ion Anderson was driving crashed in 2004. Erickson’s death was among those acknowledged by GM. A potential pardon for Anderson, who pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide in Erickson’s death, came up during a U.S. Senate hearing on July 17.
Hilliard, of Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales in Corpus Christi, also withdrew a May 6 lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents of Trenton Buzard, 6, who was paralyzed by a 2009 crash involving the family’s 2005 Chevy Cobalt, and a May 15 lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Emma Dyer and Anthony Harmon, who drowned in 2006 after Dyer lost control of her 2005 Saturn Ion, which crashed into a canal.
Hilliard said he wants those clients to file claims with a fund GM has set up to compensate people injured, or the families of those who died, in accidents caused by its ignition switch defect. Administrator Kenneth Feinberg is expected to begin accepting claims on that fund on Aug. 1.
If his clients don’t like the payouts, Hilliard said, he will refile some of their cases.
“The fight to keep them out of the MDL is something I wanted to save for another day, after the clients were able to figure out if they wanted to take the Feinberg award or not,” Hilliard said.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.