General Motors has already admitted a flaw in its ignition switch that could cause power to fail while a vehicle is in motion, and the company has already paid more than $600 million to a victims’ compensation fund. But that doesn’t mean lawsuits against the auto giant for crashes allegedly related to the ignition switch are a slam-dunk. In December of last year, a federal judge in New York dismissed two actions against GM arising over crashes in Texas, because the plaintiffs failed to present evidence sufficient to show a faulty ignition switch was the likely culprit.
In most of the lawsuits GM has faced, injured drivers or their family members alleged the ignition switch had rotated, cutting power to the steering column and preventing the airbags from deploying on impact. But according to an article at Bloomberg.com, these recent plaintiffs alleged the occurrence of a “double rotation,” the first of which knocked out power to the steering and the second of which restored power immediately before impact, allowing the airbags to deploy. The judge found such a conclusion relied too heavily on speculation about a “theoretical possibility.”
Counsel for the plaintiffs (who included an 89-year-old driver diagnosed with vertigo) conceded such cases are “damn tough to prove in court," but insisted “GM’s defect still may very well be the truth of the cause of the accidents."
Considering that GM has admitted the defect, recalled 2.59 million affected vehicles, and agreed to pay more than $2 billion to resolve claims, the company has been very successful in court. During the first wave of litigation, the company settled four lawsuits without disclosing terms, won three cases at trial, won a dismissal, and saw a plaintiff drop a claim.
All this goes to show that causation is still a major element in any products liability litigation. The existence of a defect is irrelevant if the defect did not directly cause the injury. GM has admitted the defect, and the company is widely viewed as unsympathetic on this issue, since the defect has been linked to at least 124 deaths. Still, a plaintiff who cannot demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the defect caused the crash simply cannot win.
Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban represents victims of auto accidents in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, including crashes caused by faulty GM ignition switches. If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash of a GM vehicle where the airbag failed to deploy, our products liability attorneys may be able to help. Call us at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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