Jury: GM car’s bad ignition switch not cause of crash

Detroit News staff and wire reports

General Motors Co. chalked up its second win in a series of important court cases resulting from its delayed recall for faulty ignition switches involving millions of older vehicles.

A New York City jury on Wednesday found that a flawed ignition switch in a 2007 Saturn Sky was not to blame for the accident and the injuries to the car’s occupants.

The trial is the second in a series of six so-called “bellwether” cases, including one involving a death, that are scheduled to be tried consecutively. The cases are meant to help lawyers set legal boundaries in hundreds of similar unsettled claims against the Detroit-based automaker in connection to its ignition switch recall crisis involving 2.59 million older cars GM recalled in 2014.

The defective switch has been tied to 124 deaths. The switches can slip out of the “run” position while driving, causing loss of power steering and preventing air bags from deploying.

The first trial ended abruptly in January after GM demonstrated the plaintiffs had lied about their finances. The claims against the automaker were dropped.

The jury in Manhattan federal court returned its verdict after less than a day of deliberations. It came in a trial stemming from a Louisiana fender bender. A man and woman claimed injuries after the accident.

“The jurors studied the merits of the case and saw the truth: This was a very minor accident that had absolutely nothing to do with the car’s ignition switch,” GM said in a statement immediately after the verdict. “The evidence was overwhelming that this accident — like more than 30 others that occurred in the same area that night — was caused by the driver losing control on an icy bridge during a statewide winter weather emergency.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Randall Jackson, expressed disappointment but praised the jury for part of its findings.

“We definitely disagree with the overall verdict,” Jackson said. “But we’re pleased with the findings that the jury made with regard to the fact that our client’s car was unreasonably dangerous.”

Vehicles involved in the ignition switch recall are 2003-07 Saturn Ions, 2005-10 Chevrolet Cobalts, 2006-11 Chevrolet HHRs, 2007-10 Pontiac G5s, 2006-10 Pontiac Solstices and 2007-10 Saturn Skys.

GM has admitted to using defective ignition switches for years — and to hiding the fact from customers and regulators. But the company is challenging suits that it says wrongfully blame the flaw for crashes, injuries and deaths.

An independent victims fund claims administrator hired by GM ultimately tied 124 deaths and hundreds of injuries to the problem.

GM also has already paid more than $2 billion to resolve legal issues stemming from the delayed recall, including $900 million to end a criminal probe by the U.S. government; $575 million to settle a shareholder suit and more than 1,380 civil cases by victims; and $595 million through a victims’ compensation fund outside of court.

Before he announced the verdict Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman warned attorneys and the public not to read too much into the outcome. He said the trial “yielded helpful data for both sides.”

Furman added: “It’s obvious the outcome in this case might not dictate the outcome in other cases.”

The next GM ignition switch trial is scheduled to start May 2, GM said.

The Associated Press and Michael Wayland of The Detroit News contributed.