NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge in Manhattan said on Tuesday he will not alter, for now, a plan to try five more early test cases this year against General Motors Co (GM.N) over faulty ignition switches linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths.
Lawyers for plaintiffs suing the automaker had told U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman that trying the remaining cases scheduled for this year might not be the most efficient way to advance the resolution of hundreds of remaining injury and death claims. GM opposed their request, saying that the current plan was working as intended.
During a hearing on Tuesday, Furman said he intended “to stay the course” and try the remaining five bellwether, or test, cases scheduled in the federal litigation for this year. But Furman acknowledged that the bellwether process was not perfect and said he remained open to alternatives, including adding recently filed cases to the trial slate.
A lead lawyer for GM plaintiffs, Elizabeth Cabraser, said she and her co-counsel were encouraged by Furman’s willingness to consider “refinements, alternatives and additions to the bellwether process.” GM spokesman Jim Cain said the company was pleased that Furman had agreed to stick with the current bellwether process.
GM has admitted that certain employees had known for years, prior to its 2014 recall of 2.6 million vehicles, that problems with the switch could cause it to slip out of place, stalling engines and cutting power to air bags, brakes and steering. It has paid $2 billion in related penalties and settlements.
Federal ignition-switch litigation was consolidated before Furman. He had scheduled six bellwether trials to help the parties assess how jurors value the claims in order to inform settlement discussions.
The first was dismissed mid-trial in January following allegations that the plaintiff had lied on the stand. The next federal trial is set to begin in March. Additionally, a dozen cases are set to go to trial in state courts between May and November, Furman said during Tuesday’s hearing.
The case is In re General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 14-2543.
Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky