Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, September 19, 2019

General Motors says ignition switch lawsuits are misjoined; seeks to transfer to Cook County

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Nov 24, 2015

General Motors claims several lawsuits alleging its defective engine and ignition key switch caused numerous collisions were misjoined and should be treated as separate suits.

Plaintiff Melanie Austin and 22 other GM customers claim various GM vehicles include an ignition switch that can turn from the run position to the off position while the vehicle is running.

“When the key turns in this manner, the engine and power steering shut off, and the braking power and function are greatly reduced, often resulting in a loss of control and a collision,” the complaint states.

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 their complaint, the plaintiffs mention numerous accidents that allegedly occurred as a 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 filed a third amended complaint in June after Judge Robert E. Gerber of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York limited the type of allegations that may be brought against GM in trial courts nationwide.

His judgment was filed in response to the debtors’ motion to enforce a sale order entered on April 15. Gerber ruled that complaints may only contain allegations, claims or causes of action based on GM’s post-bankruptcy acts or conduct.

GM answered the plaintiff’s third amended complaint on Aug. 6.

In its 39 separate affirmative defenses, GM argues that the cases were improperly joined together and should be litigated separately.

The defendant also 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 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.

The plaintiffs filed a reply to the defendant’s affirmative defenses on Aug. 19 through attorney John Driscoll of St. Louis. They argue that the affirmative defenses are “vague, conclusory and lack sufficient detail to allow plaintiffs to respond fully.” Therefore, they denied each and every allegation against them.

They also demanded the defendant provide a bill of particulars specifying and identifying certain details of the affirmative defenses.

That same day, The Driscoll Firm and John J. Driscoll filed a motion for leave to withdraw as counsel. They did not provide an explanation for why it’s withdrawing. No other attorney has been provided on the record.

GM filed objections and answers to the plaintiffs’ bill of particulars on Sept. 16 through attorneys Peter Hoffman and Justin Welply of Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice in St. Louis.

“GM LLC has drafted its affirmative defenses in response to the broad and vague allegations in plaintiffs’ third amended complaint.

“Plaintiffs have yet to provide many of the vehicle identification numbers for the subject vehicles and many of the crash reports associated with the accidents from which plaintiffs’ claims arise,” the objection states.

As part of its response, GM argues that the cases have all been improperly joined because each case involves distinct vehicle accidents with different times, different places, different models of GM vehicles and different causation factors.

Then on Sept. 2, GM filed a motion to separate and transfer plaintiff Renitta Woodson’s complaint to Cook County based on forum non conveniens. The defendant argues that removal is proper because the plaintiff claims to have been injured in Cook County.

“Chicago plaintiff has no justification for maintaining her action in St. Clair County. Her decision to file suit in this judicial circuit can only be explained by forum shopping and a desire to avoid federal diversity jurisdiction, neither of which is a legitimate basis for maintaining her action in this court,” the motion states.

On Nov. 10, a motion hearing was scheduled to address the defendant’s motion to transfer for Nov. 24 at 9 a.m.

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

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