GM ignition-switch plaintiffs seek to reopen case settled in 2008

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- General Motors committed fraud while settling claims over a 2004 accident that left one man dead and his fiancee pleading guilty to a crime, the victim’s family said in a lawsuit seeking to reopen the case.

Mikale Erickson, 25, a passenger in a 2004 Saturn Ion driven by his fiancee, Candice Anderson, died shortly after the vehicle crashed into a tree near Tyler, Texas. Erickson’s family and Anderson sued in Tyler federal court Monday, alleging General Motors deliberately concealed a defect the company now links to 13 deaths.

GM has recalled almost 2.6 million cars to repair defective ignition switches. The company last week fired 15 people after an internal investigation led by former Chicago U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas faulted the company for failing to act on the issue while knowing about it for more than a decade.

Since the recall began the company has been named in at least 85 lawsuits by owners who claim their vehicles lost value and at least 18 suits alleging personal injuries and deaths caused by ignition switch failures.

GM may also be facing a wave of cases the company thought it had settled, seeking more money including punitive damages.

“There are a ton of cases like this one,” said Bob Hilliard, attorney for Anderson and the Erickson family. Accident victims’ lawyers nationwide will be seeking to reopen such cases, he said in an interview Monday.

Claims settled

The plaintiffs initially settled the claims with GM in 2008, without knowing of any possible defect, according to the suit. The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for Anderson and the Erickson family.

Jim Cain, GM spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The attempt to reopen the Erickson death claim follows a similar lawsuit filed in Georgia last month by the family of a 29-year-old woman who died in 2011 when her 2005 Chevy Cobalt lost power and crashed. Her family also settled the claim before the recall.

Anderson was charged with criminally negligent homicide because “there was no clear explanation” at the time of the accident why the Ion crashed, according to the lawsuit filed today. Anderson wasn’t sentenced to prison, Hilliard said.

“GM allowed Candice Anderson to believe that she was solely responsible for causing the death of her fiancee, Gene Mikale Erickson, when GM had knowledge that would exculpate her,” according to the complaint filed today.

The lawsuit is Anderson v. General Motors (GM), 14-cv-00538, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Tyler).

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