GM Ignition Switch Class Action Suits Transferred to the Southern District of New York

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After hearing oral argument on May 29, 2014, a federal multi-jurisdictional panel has ruled that 74 class action lawsuits filed in response to GM’s defective ignition switches are to be transferred to and consolidated in the southern District of New York (SDNY). The SDNY is the jurisdiction in which in counsel for GM had previously moved to dismiss these cases in bankruptcy court due to its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

To be clear, at this point this order does not impact personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed. Rather this order currently only consolidates the class action suits. While the court did acknowledge those other lawsuits, it was silent as to whether it would be appropriate to consolidate them as well.

What is Multijurisdictional Litigation?

According to 28 U.S. Code 1407 multi-jurisdictional litigation is a federal procedural tool that occurs when, “civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts, such actions may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.” That is, when multiple lawsuits arise out of a common core of facts, it may be appropriate to combine the cases into a single matter. This type of consolidation conserves judicial resource and provides greater consistency in decisions that would be possible with multiple piecemeal decisions. Additionally, because the lawsuit all arose out a single event or series of events, a single-consolidated trial is of greater convenience to witnesses and helps ensure that a full and fair hearing of the facts is accomplished.

Many corporations prefer multi-jurisdictional litigation proceedings (MDL). MDL allows for additional cases in a broad array of jurisdictions to be consolidated into a single matter where the corporate counsel can focus all of their time and energy. Further subjecting experts and witnesses to a single deposition reduces the likelihood that they will make inconsistent statements. Apparently pleased with the ruling, a GM spokesman stated, “This order affirms what we’ve maintained all along. All cases should be transferred to the Southern District of New York, which is in the best position to coordinate with the bankruptcy court’s proceedings, has previously heard appeals from the sale order and injunction, decided several contested matters relating to the asset sale, and where several of the ignition-switch actions filed to date are pending.

What Other Options Did the Court Have?

Plaintiff’s lawyers had generally opposed the consolidation of cases into the SDNY. These attorneys had instead argued for the cases to be consolidated into a multitude of jurisdictions including those in California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas. The district proposed in California was or particular appeal because it is where U.S. District Judge James Selna sits. Judge Selna had previously heard litigation concerning the sudden-acceleration defect present in many vehicles manufactured by Toyota. Selna’s experience and familiarity with issues similar to those in GM’s recall may have been useful in administering this matter. However, because the “Southern District of New York bankruptcy court already has been called upon by both General Motors and certain plaintiffs to determine whether the 2009 General Motors bankruptcy sale order prohibits plaintiffs’ ignition-switch defect lawsuits,” the panel opted to consolidate the matter in the SDNY.

If you have been injured or a loved one has been wrongfully killed due to the ignition switch defect in GM vehicles like The Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, or Saturn Sky you may be entitled to compensation. However, legal action is already taking place that could impair or close your claim if you do not take action to protect your rights. For your free consultation with a personal injury lawyer, contact The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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