First trial in consolidated litigation vs GM set in January 2016

Article by Christian A., on November 10, 2014

The bellwether in a consolidated litigation against General Motors over a series of safety issues -- including a faulty ignition switch – is scheduled on Jan. 11, 2016, in the Southern District of New York. The date for the litigation -- consists of around 130 lawsuits so far – was set by United States District Judge Jesse Furman.

The cases cover different suits including claims for personal injury and wrongful death. The bellwether, or test trial, will involve a personal injury or wrongful death case that will be determining in the next few months, according to Furman.

A trickle of lawsuits began piling up against GM after announcing this year that it was calling back around 2.6 million vehicles due to a possible faulty ignition switch that cause shift out of position, cut power to air bags, steering and brakes.

Following the recall, GM also started calling millions of other vehicles over suspected safety flaws – which are now included in the litigation. It is expected that there would be multiple bellwether trials that will not be binding on the other cases, although results will help both plaintiffs and the carmaker on how strong their cases are.

Plaintiffs' lawyers had earlier proposed a first trial in October, but were met with opposition from GM, who said it was unrealistic. GM then asked Furman to schedule a trial date for June 2016.

Robert Hilliard, a co-lead counsel for plaintiffs, remarked that the Jan. 11, 2016 date was "consistent with the reasonable but aggressive approach" that the judge has said he wanted to set for the litigation.

In June, we reported lawsuits filed against GM over economic damages resulting from a recall of faulty ignition switches would be consolidated in the Southern District of New York. According to a ruling by the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, the cases were to be sent to Judge Furman. GM had prayed for the court to consolidate the cases and transfer them to New York.

Lawyers for the plaintiff also favored the consolidation of the cases, but not in New York. They instead suggested the trial of be held in other courts such as those in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco or Texas. However, judicial panel ruled that the Manhattan district was the most appropriate court to handle the consolidated case. The panel noted that Manhattan was the same district as GM's bankruptcy.

According to the panel, several judges in New York are already familiar with the common defendant and its prior bankruptcy proceedings.

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