Judge's comments could abruptly end GM ignition switch trial
Jan. 22, 2016
NEW YORK (AP) — A trial aimed at defining settlement options for hundreds of lawsuits stemming from General Motors Co.'s faulty ignition switches could end abruptly after a judge cast doubt Thursday on the claims of an Oklahoma man whose air bags didn't inflate when his car crashed in 2014.
General Motors, referred to sometimes in the case as New GM, should be entitled to dispute the claims of Robert Scheuer with new evidence it has unearthed raising questions about his testimony, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said.
"I have no question that New GM is entitled to some of the relief that it seeks," he said. "I don't think it is even a close call."
The judge said a document supporting Scheuer's claims appeared to have been doctored and he appeared to have been more physically functional after his accident than he claimed. The judge urged both sides to consider a settlement, and talks began almost immediately.
The judge also said Scheuer's case against Detroit-based GM was "almost worthless as a settlement tool." He urged both sides to consider whether it was sensible to begin focusing on five other bellwether trials scheduled for later this year.
Scheuer, of Tulsa, had said he suffered injuries when his air bags failed to deploy after another car ran his 2003 Saturn Ion off a rural road on May 28, 2014.
Since early 2014, GM has issued recalls affecting more than 30 million vehicles. The recalls came long after GM learned of the ignition switch defect in Chevy Cobalts and other small cars. The switches can slip out of the on position, causing the cars to stall, knocking out power steering and turning off air bags. GM says it has fixed the problem.
At the trial's start, GM attorney Mike Brock said GM's probe of the accident revealed that Scheuer was not honest about his claims.
The lawyer noted that Scheuer, a mailman, had a two-decade history of surgeries and pain medication prescriptions for spinal issues. He also said two calls to Scheuer's cellphone messaging system from his phone contradict his claims he was unconscious for three hours after the accident.
Scheuer's lawyer didn't dispute GM's claims directly but argued they were being made too late.
The lawyer, Robert C. Hilliard, said in an email late Thursday that the plaintiffs were reviewing the information presented by GM.
"In light of the court's ruling and comments, we are discussing with GM all options," he said.
Since the trial began, GM said it has found additional problems with the testimony of Scheuer and his wife.
After looking at the claims, the judge said that a check stub introduced into evidence was "more likely than not" doctored and that some documents and a witness GM planned to call before the jury "would seem to indicate that Mr. Scheuer was much more functional physically during the months after his accident than he and his wife suggested or claimed in their testimony."
The Manhattan trial began more than a week ago.