The latest bellwether trial in the General Motors ignition switch litigation has gone in the automaker’s favor, after a verdict was handed up in a Manhattan federal courtroom.
Plaintiff Dennis Ward’s suit against GM, in which he alleged that a faulty ignition switch in his 2009 Chevrolet HHR caused him to rear-end another vehicle in 2014 in Tucson, Arizona, was the seventh federal bellwether trial and the third case in which a jury found for the defendant.
Ward says that prior to the accident his vehicle lost power and thus he could not use his brakes or steer to avoid the vehicle in front of him. He suffered a permanent leg injury in the accident.
The jury for the trial, which began on July 10 and wrapped up on Wednesday, was composed of six men and four women and deliberated for less than a day.
Southern District Judge Jesse Furman presided over the trial, his fourth bellwether case. The bellwether trials are intended to help GM and plaintiffs’ counsel determine settlement options.
In a statement issued by a GM spokesman following the verdict, the company said the result of the case “underlines the fact that each case must be tried on its own merits.”
“In this case, the jury carefully considered the evidence and found that the ignition switch in this car was not defective and played no role in the accident,” the statement reads. The spokesman said another bellwether is scheduled for the fall.
GM’s legal team included Kirkland & Ellis attorneys Mike Brock, Brian Sieve and Renee Smith.
Ward was represented Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys Nicholas Wise, James Bilsborrow, Paul Novak and Diana Gjonaj; and Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales.
“We believed in this case and we continue to believe in these cases,” Wise said following the verdict.
GM has paid out more than $2 billion to satisfy civil claims and a criminal probe related to a engineering flaw in ignition switches installed in some of its models in which the vehicles’ ignitions would inadvertently flip out of the “on” position.
GM admitted the ignition switch was defective in 2014 and issued a massive recall, which came more than 10 years after small cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Saturn Ion were sent off the factory floor with defective switches.
But while the ignition-switch matter took both a financial and public relations toll on GM, the automaker’s attorneys in the bellwether cases have had relative success at winning over juries and resolving cases before they go to trial.
Of the seven bellwether cases that have gone through federal court, three were settled prior to going to trial and two plaintiffs filed notices of voluntary dismissal. One of the voluntary dismissals, for the suit filed by Oklahoma resident Robert Scheuer, came after it was revealed that the plaintiff may have fabricated parts of his testimony.
GM has also won two bellwether cases in Texas state court.