GM settles two ignition-switch injury suits


New York (AFP)

General Motors said Tuesday it had reached settlements in two closely-watched "bellwether" cases of people seriously injured in accidents tied to its faulty ignition switches.

The settlements avoid potentially embarrassing trials for the large US automaker, which has apologized for a car defect responsible for 124 fatalities and scores of additional injuries.

They also set the basis on which GM could settle more than 200 other similar lawsuits involving the ignitions.

In 2014 GM conceded that for years it had been equipping cars with ignitions that could unexpectedly turn off the engine and electrical systems while in motion, preventing airbags from deploying when accidents occurred.

GM recalled some 2.6 million cars worldwide to fix the problem, and set up an automatic compensation mechanism for many victims and their families.

But many others opted to sue the company. Some 235 lawsuits against GM alleging injury or death tied to the ignitions have been consolidated by a New York federal court.

As part of the first stage of that process, one of the settled cases was with Stephanie Cockram of Virginia, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and a fractured vertebra following a 2011 accident in a Chevrolet Cobalt when her airbag failed to deploy.

Cockram paid more than $100,000 in medical expenses and missed substantial time at work due to the accident, her complaint said.

The second agreement was with Amy Norville of Kentucky, who was involved in a 2013 accident in a Saturn Ion. Norville was injured when her airbag did not deploy after she collided into a tree as she swerved to try to avoid a deer, she said in her complaint.

The parties declined to disclose the financial terms of the settlements. But they are expected to serve as templates for other personal injury cases.

"Ms. Cockram's airbags should have deployed. Her injuries were significant and permanent," said Bob Hilliard, a lead counsel for plaintiffs.

"GM's willingness to resolve her claims as well as the claims of Ms. Norville, the next bellwether case, creates momentum to continue the process of full resolution of all multi-district litigation cases."

A GM spokesman said the agreements were "helping all of the parties achieve their common goal: the fair and timely resolution of lawsuits."

Thousands of people have claimed damages linked to the ignition defects, which GM admitted it hid for more than a decade before it began recalling 2.6 million cars worldwide in February 2014.

GM's independently administered compensation program has reviewed 4,343 claims and concluded that 399 merited payment totaling $594.5 million. More than 90 percent of the people behind claims upheld by GM's review program accepted payouts.