St. Clair County plaintiffs suing General Motors over allegedly defective engine and ignition key
switches have filed a third amended complaint
involving the car manufacturer’s post-bankruptcy conduct after a recent judgment in federal bankruptcy court.
Judge Robert E. Gerber of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court
for the Southern District of New York on June 1 limited the type of allegations that may
be brought against GM in trial courts nationwide.
St. Louis attorney John Driscoll in January filed suit for Melanie Austin and 22 others who claim various GM vehicles include an
ignition switch that can turn from the run position to the off position while
the vehicle is running. They say the problems can cause loss of
control and resulting collisions,
Gerber ruled that complaints
may only contain allegations, claims or causes of action based on GM’s
post-bankruptcy acts or conduct.
His ruling came in response to the debtors’
motion to enforce sale order entered on April 15.
“Any claims or causes or action brought by the
ignition switch pre-closing accident plaintiffs that seek to hold New GM liable
for accidents or incidents that occurred prior to the closing of the [sale of
assets of Old GM to New GM] are barred and enjoined pursuant to the sale order.
The ignition switch pre-closing accident plaintiffs shall not assert or
maintain any such claim or cause of action against New GM,” he ordered.
Likewise, “all claims or causes of action that the
ignition switch plaintiffs may have against New GM concerning an Old vehicle or
part seeking to impose liability or damages based in whole or in part on Old GM
conduct are barred and enjoined pursuant to the sale order, and such lawsuits
shall remain stayed pending appeal of the decision and this judgment,” the
On June 9, the St. Clair County plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to
amend the complaint following Gerber’s judgment.
Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot granted their motion to
file a third amended complaint on June 16. The plaintiffs filed their complaint
that same day.
complaint states that a low position of the ignition switch on the vehicles’
steering columns makes it possible for drivers to accidentally bump the key and
turn the car off.
plaintiffs claim GM was aware of the defects as early as 2001 when it began
developmental testing of the 2003 Saturn Ion, but elected to do nothing to
correct the problem. In fact, GM allegedly installed the key system in the 2003
Saturn Ion and in several other GM models, the plaintiffs claim.
complaint, the plaintiffs mention numerous accidents that allegedly occurred as
the result of the defect, including some fatal collisions. Although GM knew of
the collisions, the plaintiffs claim the company continued to sell the vehicles
for full price and to conceal the defects.
plaintiffs allege strict products liability, negligence, fraudulent
misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, breach of implied warranty and
breach of express warranty against the company.
GM denied the allegations in its June 4 answer through
the Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice firm in St. Louis. In its 30 separate affirmative
defenses, the defendant argues that none of its products were defective or
unreasonably dangerous, meaning its products could not have caused or
contributed to the alleged damages.
“The alleged defective condition did not, in the
natural or ordinary course of events, produce plaintiffs’ injuries,” the answer
“The alleged defective components were designed,
manufactured and sold in accordance with the state-of-the-art and in compliance
with and in conformance to” codes, standards and specifications approved by the
government, it continued.
GM adds that the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries were
caused by their own negligence or improper conduct, claiming the plaintiffs
operated their vehicles in a reckless, careless and negligent manner.
The defendant argues that it does not owe a duty to
warn of any alleged safety-related defects and says the plaintiffs’ claims are
barred by their own assumption of risk when choosing to use the vehicles in an
alleged reckless manner.
Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-26