clear
Friday February 5th, 2016 10:05PM

GM begins talks to settle ignition switch lawsuits

By The Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) -- A mediator for General Motors has begun negotiations about settling more than 300 claims related to a deadly ignition switch problem in some older model small cars.

Kenneth Feinberg confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press that he met for four hours Friday with Robert Hilliard, a Corpus Christi, Texas, lawyer who said he represents families of 53 people killed and 273 injured in crashes of defective GM vehicles. Feinberg would not comment specifically on what was discussed.

"I'm evaluating various compensation options for GM to consider," said Feinberg, who said he plans to present the options to GM in the next few weeks. "I'm glad I met with him. It was an interesting meeting," Feinberg said.

Feinberg said he listened to Hilliard and four colleagues explain the "quality and quantity" of their cases. Hilliard said no dollar figures were discussed, adding that he won't settle at a discount to what his clients could get through court mediation.

GM has recalled 2.6 million small cars, mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, to replace the faulty switches, which can slip unexpectedly out of the "run" position and cause the engines to shut down. If that happens, power-assisted steering and brakes will fail, making cars difficult to control. Also, the air bags won't inflate in a crash.

GM has admitted knowing about the problem for more than a decade, but it didn't start recalling the cars until February. The company counts far fewer victims than Hilliard, saying 13 deaths and 31 crashes are linked to the switches.

GM announced Feinberg's hiring at a congressional hearing last month. He is an expert in disaster fund management who handled the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund as well as funds for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill.

At the hearing, GM CEO Mary Barra stopped short of saying the company would compensate victims. "We will make the best decisions for our customers, recognizing that we have legal obligations and responsibilities as well as moral obligations," she said.

There's a lot at stake in the negotiations.

Hilliard claims that if all the cases go to trial and juries rule against GM, punitive damages could place the company in financial jeopardy. He cited a case earlier this month where a Louisiana federal court jury ordered Japanese drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and its U.S. counterpart, Eli Lilly and Co., to pay $9 billion in punitive damages over a diabetes medicine linked to cancer.

The $9 billion is likely to end up much smaller on appeal, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. "It's a fair comparison, but I don't think if we got to punitive damages it would be that substantial," Tobias said.

But he said the potential remains for large verdicts against GM, depending on how far the company went to conceal its problems.

In October, an Oklahoma City jury awarded $3 million in an unintended acceleration lawsuit that killed a woman and injured another. Toyota settled the case before the jury decided punitive damages.

GM, which had $27 billion in cash at the end of March, would not comment on the size of potential verdicts or the meeting.

According to Hilliard, GM will not try to use its 2009 bankruptcy as a shield from ignition switch claims. A bankruptcy judge ruled then that claims prior to GM leaving court protection will go against GM's predecessor company, which has few assets. Feinberg wouldn't comment on that. "That's GM's call, not mine," he said.

Hilliard said Feinberg has to place a value on the deaths and figure out lost income for each person. Some of those injured have permanent disabilities and need care for life, he said.

"There are knowable objective numbers, plus the subjective numbers caused by the tragedy of the human loss," he said.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 8 minutes ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 3 days ago )
Cruz (R) expected to claim conservative Iowa caucus victory, with Clinton (D) and Sanders (D) deadlocked among liberal vote
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept to victory in Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday, overcoming billionaire Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were deadlocked in a tight race.
By The Associated Press
10:55PM ( 3 days ago )
America, its politics in flux as voting begins
On the eve of the first contest on the 2016 presidential election calendar, some voters are pushing for bolder, more uncompromising action, with an intensity that has shaken both the Republican and Democratic establishments.
By The Associated Press
9:00PM ( 5 days ago )
Piedmont College biology professor says getting rid of mosquito breeding areas key to control of Zika virus
The World Health Organization says the Zika virus is likely to spread to every area of the U.S. where the mosquito that carries it can be found - and that includes Georgia.
By Russell Brown
9:38AM ( 5 days ago )