Reuters reports that the trial, which centers on a May 2014 Tulsa, OK, crash that left the driver injured, will provide the first glimpse of GM’s defense and the severity of cases against the carmaker.
According to the lawsuit, the 2014 crash occurred when the man’s 2003 Saturn Ion ran off the highway, became airborne, and then struck the ground and trees.
The man, who suffers continuing neck and back pain as a result of the crash, contends that the airbag did not deploy as a result of GM’s ignition switch defect in which ignitions have been found to inadvertently turn off while the car was in operation, thus disabling power steering, braking, and airbags.
The car’s owner, who seeks punitive damages based on GM’s “intentional post-bankruptcy conduct,” says that GM put him at risk by delaying the recall and did too little for customers
As previously reported, some at GM knew about the defect as early as 2001, before the affected vehicles even went into production. The design flaw was quietly fixed several years later but without issuing a recall to fix vehicles on the road. Additionally, the part number was not changed, meaning there was no easy way to differentiate between the defective switches and the improved parts.
The company claims that upper management at GM did not learn of the problem until shortly before issuing a recall in 2014, a decade after people began dying in accidents related to the ignition issue. Even though documents turned up during a federal investigation showed that at least one current GM VP was made aware of the defect in 2005, the carmaker has denied any sort of cover-up and instead blames a “culture of incompetence.”
GM denies the man’s claims, arguing there is no proof that he switch caused the man’s injuries.
“Each bellwether case will be tried on its own merits,” GM spokesman Jim Cain told Reuters.
The beginning of trials related to the ignition switch defect comes just a month after the carmaker announced it had wrapped up its victim compensation claim process that found 124 deaths and 275 injuries were a result of the ignition switch defect. In all, the company paid out $594.5 million in compensation.
In addition to the six cases set to be heard in New York, GM still faces more than 200 wrongful death and injury lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada, as well as more than 100 suits related to reduced value of affected vehicles.
GM agreed in September to pay $900 million to the Justice Department to settle criminal charges tied to the long-delayed ignition recall.