Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Aug. 4, 2015, 3:06pm


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 order continued.

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.

The 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.

The 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.

In their 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.

The 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 states.

“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.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-26

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