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It was a rough start and quick finish for the first trail over General Motors' defective ignition switches, which have left over 124 dead and many more injured. The first bellwether case fell apart last week as evidence emerged that the plaintiffs had lied about the extent of their injuries. The plaintiff dismissed his claim on Friday, after Southern District of New York Judge Jesse Furman said he had committed "a fraud on the court and on the jury."
So, what went wrong for the plaintiffs and so right for GM?
Last Minute Life Savers for GM
In 2014, GM issued a massive (and many say, much too late) recall over defective ignition switches. Those switches could accidentally turn from the "on" to "accessory" positions, cutting power steering, brakes, and air bags.
The same year as the recall, Robert Scheuer swerved to avoid another car and crashed his Saturn Ion into a tree. Scheuer claimed that the crash, caused in part by the defective ignition switch, rendered him unconscious for three hours, left him with long term back and neck injuries, and prevented him from buying his dream home.
But, much to Scheuer's legal teams' chagrin, a series of devastating last minute revelations undermined many Scheuer's claims.
Just ten days before trial, the realtor for the "dream home" sale heard Scheuer's story on the radio and called GM to say that it wasn't true, according to the New York Law Journal. Scheuer was never going to buy the house because he couldn't afford it and the evidence of income he put forward to secure a loan was fraudulent.
That was the cherry on top of GM's evidence that Scheuer, despite claiming to be unconscious for hours after his crash, repeatedly checked his voice mail during that time and that his pre-crash treatments of back and neck pain hadn't changed after the injury.
A Delay, but Not a Death Knell
The implosion of Scheuer's suit is particularly noteworthy given that it had been selected as the first bellwether case in the General Motors ignition switch litigation. A total of six trials have been set up to establish settlement parameters for the hundreds of product liability suits facing GM. Three, including Scheuer's, were chosen by the plaintiffs bar, three by the defendants.
The failure of Scheuer's won't have an effect on the other five cases, but it does mark a significant delay to the advancement of the litigation. "It's not just a bad outcome for an individual. It's a bad start for the plaintiff side as a whole," Fordham Law School professor Howard Erichson told The New York Times. "Surely they were hoping for a trial victory to generate momentum. Instead, it became a momentum-killer."
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