January 14, 2016 / 10:25 PM / in 2 years

GM challenges ignition-switch plaintiff’s account of crash fallout

The GM logo is seen at the General Motors Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant in Lansing, Michigan October 26, 2015.Rebecca Cook

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for General Motors Co (GM.N) pushed back Thursday against an Oklahoma man’s testimony that his quality of life plummeted because of crash injuries he blamed on his Saturn Ion's faulty ignition switch, in the first trial after a recall of millions of vehicles with the defective switch.

Plaintiff Robert Scheuer, a 49-year old letter carrier, told jurors in Manhattan federal court that he cannot enjoy many daily activities due to the “violent” neck and back pain that he experienced since his 2003 Ion crashed just weeks after it was recalled for safety issues with the switch.

“It’s basically a disruption of the life I had,” Scheuer said.

But GM’s lawyer, Mike Brock, showed jurors Scheuer’s pre-accident medical records detailing a lengthy history of serious back problems to counter Scheuer’s contention that the accident made his previously manageable pain debilitating.

Scheuer claims the ignition switch defect prevented his air bags from going off and protecting him in the crash. GM has said that it does not believe the ignition switch is at fault, pointing out that Scheuer's steering and brake system were apparently operational. Brock showed jurors a document Thursday indicating that first responders found the Ion running when they arrived.

Brock also focused Thursday on Scheuer's contention that the accident set off a chain of events that led to his family's eviction from their "dream home." Scheuer said missing work prevented him from tapping his employee retirement fund to pay for the house, but Brock questioned whether there was a direct link between the accident and the eviction months later. Scheuer is seeking financial damages in connection with his housing situation.

The trial is the first to test claims that GM put customers at risk by concealing the defect and failing for years to recall vehicles with the switch, which can slip out of position while the car is running, causing engine stalls and cutting power to brakes, steering and air bag systems. In February 2014, the company began to recall 2.6 million vehicles with the switch, which has since been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

GM has previously acknowledged that some employees knew about issues with the switch for more than a decade. It has paid roughly $2 billion in legal penalties and settlements so far, but still faces several hundred lawsuits involving injuries and deaths, as well as lost vehicle resale value.

Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lisa Shumaker

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