New York jury hears claim GM concealed ignition switch defect

Tue Jan 12, 2016 3:47pm EST
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By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Motors Co should pay for concealing an ignition switch defect from its customers that has been linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths, a lawyer for an Oklahoma man injured in a car crash told a Manhattan jury on Tuesday.

"This case is not just about an accident that occurred in Oklahoma in 2014," said Robert Hilliard, who is representing plaintiff Robert Scheuer. "This is about the conduct of a company over a period of time that spanned more than a decade."

Key GM employees knew about the problem for more than 10 years, said Hilliard, adding that evidence would show the automaker's "cover-up" of a dangerous safety flaw.

GM's failure to conduct a safety recall until 2014 created an "ocean of consequences" for Scheuer and other customers, Hilliard said.

His comments came in opening statements in the first trial since GM's recall of 2.6 million vehicles, including Scheuer's 2003 Saturn Ion, over an ignition switch that could inadvertently slip to an "off" or "accessory" position while the car was in motion, stalling engines and disabling critical systems like air bags.

Scheuer's case, in which he is seeking unspecified compensatory damages as well as punitive damages, is the first of six that have been selected to serve as "bellwether," or test, trials in federal litigation over the switch.

Verdicts in the bellwether trials are not binding on the other suits, but they provide both sides insights about the value of each claim. The switch has already been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

GM has already agreed to pay roughly $2 billion to resolve legal claims and probes in connection with the switch problem, which thrust the company into the hot seat with Congress, regulators, prosecutors and the public two years ago.   Continued...

The GM logo is seen at the General Motors Warren Transmission Operations Plant in Warren, Michigan October 26, 2015.   REUTERS/Rebecca Cook