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Jury says GM ignition switch not to blame in New Orleans crash

Posted at 11:40 AM, Mar 30, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City jury found Wednesday that a flawed General Motors ignition switch was not to blame in a 2014 accident on an icy New Orleans bridge, handing the carmaker its second victory in a row in trials meant to help lawyers settle dozens of similar claims.

The jury in Manhattan federal court returned its verdict after less than a day of deliberations. It came in a trial stemming from a Louisiana fender bender. A man and woman claimed injuries after the accident.

The jury found that the plaintiffs' 2007 Saturn Sky was unreasonably dangerous because it contained the faulty ignition switch. But it also found that the switch was not to blame for the accident and the injuries to the car's occupants.

"The jurors studied the merits of the case and saw the truth: this was a very minor accident that had absolutely nothing to do with the car's ignition switch," GM said in a statement immediately after the verdict. "The evidence was overwhelming that this accident — like more than 30 others that occurred in the same area that night — was caused by the driver losing control on an icy bridge during a state-wide winter weather emergency."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Randall Jackson, expressed disappointment but praised the jury for part of its findings.

"We definitely disagree with the overall verdict," Jackson said. "But we're pleased with the findings that the jury made with regard to the fact that our client's car was unreasonably dangerous."

Six trials were scheduled this year to help resolve claims stemming from an ignition switch problem that has plagued GM since 2002. The company has issued recalls affecting over 30 million vehicles since early 2014 but has been accused of covering up the problem for more than a decade before acknowledging it and launching recalls.

The ignition switch can slip out of the on position, making it difficult to steer or stop as the car stalls. GM says it has fixed the problem.

In September, GM announced it had settled 1,385 death and injury cases for $275 million and a class-action shareholders' lawsuit for $300 million.

The company paid nearly $600 million to settle 399 claims made to a fund it established. Those claims covered 124 deaths and 275 injuries. GM's fund rejected more than 90 percent of the 4,343 claims it received, according to figures the company released in December.

An earlier trial stemming from another accident ended abruptly in January after the judge raised questions about the plaintiff's truthfulness.

Before he announced the verdict Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman warned attorneys and the public not to read too much into the outcome.

He said the trial "yielded helpful data for both sides."

Furman added: "It's obvious the outcome in this case might not dictate the outcome in other cases."

The next GM ignition switch trial was scheduled to start May 2. General Motors said it was aware in January of more than 230 court actions in federal and state court in the United States against the company, though most of the actions were consolidated in New York.