July 31, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Personal injury attorney files new lawsuit against GM

GM says it has no plans to expand compensation fund

A prominent Texas personal injury attorney has filed a new lawsuit against General Motors Co. on behalf of 156 people who died or were injured in allegedly defective vehicles recalled this year by the automaker — but who likely are not eligible for GM’s victims compensation fund.

That compensation fund, which begins taking claims Friday, is limited to the 2.59 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars GM recalled earlier this year for ignition switch defects in which air bags did not deploy. GM has said it has no plans to expand the fund.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, represents families of 20 people who died, allegedly as a result of vehicle crashes tied to a GM defect — and another 136 who were injured.

Attorney Bob Hilliard said in a statement he will have to “defeat GM’s claims of bankruptcy protection” in this case because the crashes happened before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. GM is waiving its bankruptcy liability shield in the 2.59 million vehicle population related to compensation fund claims, but is not doing the same for crashes prior to its 2009 bankruptcy that involved other recalled vehicles.

Hilliard said in a statement that plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not eligible to apply for GM’s compensation plan being run by independent compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg due to the “restrictive nature of the fund’s vehicle qualifications.”

Some clients cited in the lawsuit were in vehicles that fall in the 2.59 million population that GM has said is tied to 54 crashes and 13 deaths, but do not meet the fund criteria — for instance, if air bags inflated in a crash, they would not be eligible for compensation. Others in the lawsuit were in different vehicles GM has since recalled this year for ignition switch issues, Hilliard said.

GM did not comment directly on the lawsuit.

“We want to do the right thing for the people who were physically injured or lost a loved one as a result of an ignition switch issue in a Cobalt or one the other recalled small cars,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said in an emailed statement. “They should file a compensation claim, and Mr. Feinberg will independently evaluate them beginning on Aug. 1.”

Hilliard filed a similar lawsuit earlier this week representing 658 people in accidents that happened after GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 that the firm believes are not eligible for the compensation plan. That lawsuit lists families of 29 people who died in vehicles allegedly tied to an ignition switch defect and another 629 injured.

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Thursday are Carolyn Hawkins of Montgomery, Ala., whose daughter Tamia Williams, 17, died in a 2008 crash in Pontiac. Williams, who was five months pregnant, was a passenger in a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu driven by Alexis Wilson, 24, of Pontiac. Wilson also is listed as a plaintiff; she was injured in the crash. She spent more than two years in prison after pleading no contest to four felonies related to the crash.

The front air bags in the 2008 Malibu did not inflate. The 2008 Malibu recently was recalled by GM for electronic power steering issues, but not air bags.

mburden@detroitnews.com