U.S. jurors weigh whether GM ignition switch caused 2014 crash

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 29, 2016 2:54 PM

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for people suing General Motors over a faulty ignition switch on Tuesday urged jurors in Manhattan federal court to hold the company responsible for a 2014 accident they allege was caused by the defective part.

The lawsuit is the second against GM to go to trial since it recalled 2.6 million vehicles in 2014 with the switch that has been linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths.

During the two-week trial, lawyers for Dionne Spain and Lawrence Barthelemy have argued that a defective switch in Spain's 2007 Saturn Sky slipped out of position while she was driving, causing the vehicle to stall and crash while crossing an icy bridge in New Orleans in January 2014.

"The evidence is overwhelming that there was an ignition switch failure," said Randall Jackson, who represents Spain and Barthelemy.

General Motors has acknowledged that some of its employees knew about the switch problem for years but failed to take action. It has already paid about $2 billion in settlements and penalties in connection with the part.

In the case of Spain's Saturn Sky, GM lawyer Mike Brock denied its ignition switch was to blame for the accident, arguing that the crash was among many caused by wintry weather and treacherous roads on the bridge that night. During trial, GM portrayed the crash as minor and the resulting damage as minimal.

"What's the simplest explanation for the outcome here?" Brock asked jurors. "Ice."

Jurors began deliberating Tuesday afternoon on the sole question of whether a defective switch in Spain's vehicle caused it to crash.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who oversees the litigation, on Monday dismissed a separate claim by Spain over fraudulent misrepresentation.

Furman ruled that Spain had not pointed to any allegedly false statements made by GM that induced her to think the Saturn Sky was safe.

The case is among hundreds of injury and death lawsuits that have been filed over the switch.

It was selected as an early test trial in federal litigation. A first trial ended abruptly in January without a verdict when GM accused the plaintiff of giving misleading testimony. Several more trials are scheduled for later this year.

The case is In re General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 14-2543.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Andrew Hay)