January 21, 2016 / 9:29 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. judge urges early end to first GM ignition-switch trial

A portion of a GM automobile is displayed as evidence in a Manhattan federal courtroom in this undated handout photo provided by United States District Court for the Southern District of New York released to Reuters on January 11, 2016. REUTERS/United States District Court for the Southern District of New York/Handout via Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday urged parties in the first federal trial over a faulty General Motors ignition switch to consider resolving the case before it reaches a verdict, after evidence surfaced that cast doubt on testimony from the plaintiff bringing the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan asked GM and lawyers for plaintiff Robert Scheuer to take a “very hard look at whether it’s worth the time and resources to carry this (trial) through to its conclusion.”

Instead, he suggested they should consider settling or otherwise resolving the case and moving on to the next in a series of early bellwether, or test, trials set for this year on the ignition switch defect linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths.

Furman’s comments could signal an early end to what was supposed to be a first test of GM’s potential liability for similar lawsuits.

While not binding on other cases, verdicts in these bellwether, or test, trials are meant to help steer settlement talks in the overall litigation. But the latest twists have turned Scheuer’s suit into an “outlier,” Furman said Thursday.

Furman is overseeing federal litigation that hit GM after its 2014 recall of 2.6 million vehicles over defective ignition switches that can slip out of place. Scheuer’s lawsuit, selected by plaintiffs’ counsel as the first to go to trial, alleges that the failure of the switch in his 2003 Saturn Ion prevented the air bags from deploying during a crash in May 2014, weeks after GM began its recall.

Scheuer’s account of his crash injuries and post-accident finances have been called into question by GM, which sought earlier this week to introduce new witnesses and evidence that contradict testimony given by him and his wife at trial last week. Both Scheuer and his wife have retained criminal defense attorneys.

Furman said Thursday he would allow GM to present that new information to jurors. If GM’s account is correct, he said, it would suggest that “plaintiff and perhaps his wife have committed a fraud on this court,” Furman said.

Hilliard said Thursday that Furman’s ruling and observations had been clear, and that they would evaluate the new information and discuss “all options” with GM. A GM spokesman, Jim Cain, said Furman rightly allowed jurors to hear the new evidence, and that it was too soon to comment on a possible settlement.

Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Alan Crosby

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