BREAKING: GM Wins Defense Verdict In 2nd Ignition-Switch Trial - Law360
by Cara Salvatore
Law360, New York (March 30, 2016, 11:23 AM ET) --
General Motors on Wednesday won the second bellwether trial in the continuing fight over its defective ignition switches, as a New York federal jury found that GM cars were unreasonably dangerous but did not find that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by their car, a Saturn roadster.
The trial, selected by GM as a test of some of the weaker claims in a pool of hundreds of lawsuits, had been closely watched after a first bellwether disintegrated when the plaintiff was accused of lying. And this one wasn't without its own drama: Over its two-plus weeks, two separate jurors were dismissed for sleeping.
The verdict came only after the remaining eight sent a flurry of notes indicating confusion with the flow of the complicated verdict form.
Plaintiff Dionne Spain, the owner of a blue 2007 Saturn Sky, blamed GM's now-infamous ignition-switch design defect for her crash on the Crescent City Connection bridge in New Orleans in January 2014 as she and passenger Lawrence Barthelemy drove across it to go to a poetry reading.
Police and GM's reconstructionists blamed black ice; Spain and Barthelemy said the Sky suffered from the same ignition-switch defect that has caused scores of deaths. A small metal plunger that was supposed to keep the ignition slotted into the “Run” position was too weak and could be turned off by inertia from road bumps or driving maneuvers or by jostles from a driver's knee, an industry-rocking report called the Valukas report found amid GM's 2014 recalls.
On any occasion when the weak switch flipped backward to "Accessory," the engine would cut out, airbags would be disabled, and power steering and power brake assist would stop, as would, of course, the ability to accelerate to keep up with traffic.
GM presented a mountain of medical records during the trial suggesting that Spain and Barthelemy did not sustain the injuries they claimed to have from the crash. Both suffered back pain before and after the crash, but GM presented many records suggesting that the back pain after the crash was not purported to have stemmed from it. Spain was a medical receptionist, Barthelemy a barge washing supervisor.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman had dismissed a handful of claims shortly before the trial, and dismissed another after the defense rested its case.