GM wins another ignition switch trial

Erik Larson
Bloomberg News

General Motors Co. won another federal trial over faulty ignition switches that were installed in millions of vehicles, suggesting juries are dubious about linking specific accidents to the deadly flaw.

A jury in Manhattan on Wednesday determined the switch wasn’t to blame for the crash of an Arizona man’s 2009 Chevrolet HHR station wagon in 2014. It’s a key public-relations victory for the biggest U.S. automaker after it paid more than $1 billion to settle related claims and a criminal probe.

Dennis Ward said he suffered permanent leg damage after his car suddenly lost power, preventing him from braking or steering out of the way when a vehicle stopped in front of him. His suit was chosen for one of six so-called bellwether trials to guide the parties in resolving similar cases.

Ward, who testified at the trial, continued to drive the vehicle after the rear-end accident, and no evidence was submitted showing the switch had been jostled into an off position before the crash. The flaw in many cases resulted in the switch being shifted off by heavy sets of keys or a jostling from a driver’s knee.

Of the five earlier bellwethers, GM won one and the plaintiff voluntarily dropped another in the middle of a trial. Three other cases settled. Two other bellwethers took place in Texas, with GM winning one by jury verdict and another when a judge dismissed it.

GM still faces hundreds more claims in federal and state courts stemming from its 2014 recall of millions of cars in the U.S. with the faulty switches. The devices in the initial recall were linked to more than 100 deaths, with GM paying at least $870 million to settle claims and an additional $900 million to the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal probe.