GM ignition switch accords challenged over alleged lawyer conflict

NEW YORK -- A settlement fund for the benefit of more than 1,000 General Motors customers who sued over faulty ignition switches should be re-examined by a judge because the lawyer who negotiated it had a conflict of interest, another plaintiff attorney involved in the cases alleged.

Robert Hilliard may have cut a deal with GM that limits the carmaker's financial risk at a series of bellwether trials over the defect, according to a filing by Lance Cooper, a Georgia lawyer who represents a number of plaintiffs whose claims are part of the consolidated case in Manhattan federal court.

Cooper previously asked a Manhattan federal judge to remove Hilliard and the two other co-lead lawyers after the first of six so-called bellwether cases went sour on them.

In Wednesday's filing, Cooper urges the judge to reconsider his approval of a settlement fund for more than 1,000 of Hilliard's clients.

"This latest unsupportable filing by Mr. Cooper satisfies me that he has comfortably settled in to his self-appointed role as official loose cannon to this litigation," Hilliard said in an e-mail. "His 'sky is falling' approach, though unprofessional and self-demeaning, will be addressed in our response."

Cooper contends Hilliard made a deal as part of this settlement that limits GM's financial exposure in the first jury trials.

Last week, two of Hilliard's clients, an Oklahoma mail carrier and his wife, dropped their suit after the postman was accused of fabricating a check stub to try to buy their "dream" house, leading to their eviction.

Robert and Lisa Scheuer had claimed that injuries from an accident they say was caused by the faulty ignition switch ultimately cost them the home. Hilliard said earlier that the choice of Scheuer as the first trial was appropriate.

GM recalled 2.59 million small cars in 2014 to replace faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to at least 124 deaths.

The switch could be jarred into the "accessory" position, shutting off the engine, disabling power steering and brakes and preventing air bags from deploying.

The company recalled another 10 million vehicles in 2014 for a similar defect.

Most death and injury suits were combined before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan, who had set six claims as the bellwether or test cases for trial. 

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