General Motors is proving a tough adversary in the initial of five major wrongful death bellwether lawsuits. While each case is unique, GM’s early wins relating to ongoing faulty ignition switch litigation are worth noticing.
GM’s first major victory
The wrongful death lawsuit of James E. Yingling was meant to be the first of five bellwether lawsuits in 2016 addressing fatalities allegedly linked to GM’s faulty ignition switch. The suit’s trial was set to be heard on May 2nd at the US District Court of the Southern District of New York and presided by the Honorable Judge Jesse M. Furman, who is overseeing the ignition switch litigations. However, the suit was settled by GM’s lawyers last week after Nadia Yingling, the wife of the late James Yingling, entered into confidential negotiations with the defendant.
Yingling, father of five, had passed away in December 2013 from traumatic brain injury 17 days after a car accident involving his stepfather’s 2006 Saturn Ion in Pennsylvania. His accident was allegedly linked to the car’s faulty ignition switch, which cuts power to the vehicle and disables airbags when the switch is accidentally jarred into the off position.
Other GM victories
Prior to the Yingling case, GM won two personal injury cases. The first held trial in January and involved Robert Scheuer of Oklahoma, who claimed his neck and back injuries resulting from his 2014 accident in a 2003 Saturn Ion caused him financial distress. The case was abruptly dismissed when GM disputed Scheuer’s testimony about his and his wife’s eviction from their home. Scheuer had supposedly altered a federal check stub to link the timing of his eviction as a result of his injuries.
The second case involving Dionne Spain and Lawrence Barthelemy made it to trial, but the jury ruled that the vehicle’s ignition switch was not at fault for the accident they experienced. Spain and Barthelemy’s 2014 accident involved Spain’s 2007 Saturn Sky, which had rear-ended another vehicle in a multi-car pileup on the Crescent City Connection bridge in New Orleans. Spain and Barthelemy alleged that their vehicle was rendered inoperable just before the accident due to the ignition switch, but the jury found the icy road conditions to be at fault.
Following the Yingling case’s settlement, another lawsuit filed by Robert Reid of Alabama in relation to injuries sustained by his Chevrolet HHR was abruptly and voluntarily dismissed with prejudice by both GM and Reid’s lawyers. No other details about the case or the reason it was dismissed have been made public except that no damages were awarded.
What do GM’s victories mean for future lawsuits?
The main point to take away from these four GM victories is that the ignition switch problem hasn’t been legally reproached as a causal factor in the victims’ injuries or deaths. Only one of the cases ever made it through trial to verdict, and the jury ruled that the ignition switch was not a causal factor in Spain and Barthelemy’s accident and resulting injuries.
GM had already admitted knowing about the ignition switch defect for years and paid about $2 billion in previous settlements and penalties. However, GM has yet to admit the defect’s causal link to the personal injury and wrongful death claims it faces. The goals of the 2016 bellwether trials are to legally affirm that causal link and to compensate the victims accordingly. GM’s four victories have delayed the litigations from reaching the former goal.
Remaining lawsuits press on
What future bellwether trials and related lawsuits are looking toward is a key victory for the victims, especially a victory in a wrongful death case. As one plaintiff attorney says, “You see it a lot with drug cases… You get a $100 million verdict, and you don’t see another trial.”
Each trial costs up to a half million dollars for lawyers so if the plaintiff of a wrongful death case were to win, the damages GM would have to pay could dissuade it from going to trial in the future. A single bellwether victory could put future lawsuits at an advantage for better settlements.
Despite the setbacks, the victims’ lawyers expressed their readiness to continue the fight. A lawsuit filed by a Virginia woman that was originally scheduled for trial in September may be ready by late June as one lawyer reports.
Before then, another of the five key bellwether trials is set to be heard on May 2nd. This upcoming multidistrict litigation includes the wrongful death of Paige Underwood, a 16-year-old Poteau High School sophomore from Oklahoma who died in 2012 after her Pontiac ran off of the road and into a tree down a ravine. Her mother, Melissa Halcomb, will be representing her case and claims the faulty ignition switch as the cause of Underwood’s death.
If you or someone you know was affected by the GM ignition switch defect, you may be eligible for recompense. Contact one of Legal Advocate Link’s experienced personal injury attorneys to have your case reviewed and learn about your legal rights.