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Texas Personal Injury News

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bellwether Trials Test Climate on GM Ignition Switch Litigation

Over the past several years, execution protocol has come under fire across the United States – most notably following a “botched” execution in Oklahoma wherein the chemical cocktail took nearly 18 minutes to ultimately prove fatal. While the death penalty is undoubtedly controversial in the U.S., the state of Texas has a long and storied history surrounding its use of capital punishment. In August 2016, a Texas federal court reviewed the state’s execution protocols, and concluded that there are currently no instances of wrongful misconduct or issues involving the cocktail used to execute inmates.

In 2012, the state of Texas amended its lethal injection procedure. At the time, prisons were relying on a three-drug mixture designed to slow breathing, sedate the inmate, and ultimately stop the heart. Following the changes, the state began relying on a compounded form of pentobarbital – which has been used successfully and “without any problems” in 30 executions.

Q: What happens to individual cases when hundreds of people claim to have been injured by the same product?

It’d be wonderful if every product marketed and sold to the public was safe. But despite safety regulations and what’s presumed to be the best efforts of designers and manufacturers, some products that make it to the market are defective. And those product defects can cause personal injury or wrongful death to unsuspecting and innocent consumers.

Imagine driving your car. It started fine, is running well, and you’re enjoying the drive. You’re confident that the car will continue running until turned off and that your air bag system will work if you have an accident. Those are reasonable assumptions. Unfortunately, as two young drivers in two separate one-car, low speed crashes learned, air bags don’t always deploy upon impact.

The two women, from Virginia and Kentucky, brought legal action against their vehicles’ manufacturer, General Motors Company, alleging that a faulty ignition switch caused the air bags to fail in their cases and resulted in them suffering serious personal injuries.  The ignition switches—which can suddenly jostle out of position while travelling and turn off the engine and the air bags-- were the subject of a massive 2.6 million car world-wide recall in 2014 and have been blamed for at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries. Both women’s cases recently settled for undisclosed sums.

Their cases are just two of hundreds of state and federal ignition switch claims against GM. And over a hundred more cases could be added if claims from before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy are allowed. GM allegedly knew of the defect for over a decade before instituting the recall.

These two cases are part of a series of about a half-dozen so-called bellwether cases…a representative sampling of cases related to the same claim or theory which are chosen as test cases for the purpose of setting parameters for the resolution of a multitude of similar claims. Two other bellwether cases, in Louisiana and Texas, were won by GM after it was determined after trial that the ignition switch issue was not the cause of those particular accidents, and another was dismissed when the plaintiff was caught lying during the trial.

These bellwether cases, with their varied outcomes, indicate that juries are weighing the issue of causation heavily in each individual case and are expecting the plaintiff’s to meet their burden of proving the defect was to blame in their particular case. This gives defense counsel parameters for offering to settle cases that are strong and to consider litigating weaker ones. Likewise, plaintiffs with weak causation arguments may be inclined to accept a settlement rather than going to trial.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a product defect, an experienced attorney can help your get the compensation you deserve. Chandler, Mathis & Zivley, PC has offices in Houston and Lufkin Texas and serves clients throughout Texas as well as many other states. Contact us at 800.657.2230 or online.


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Chandler, Mathis & Zivley, PC has offices located in Houston and Lufkin Texas and serves clients throughout East Texas as well as many other states.
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