NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -- The Oklahoma man whose lawsuit against General Motors over flawed ignition switches was the first to go to trial hired a criminal-defense attorney after the carmaker accused him of perjury and check fraud.
Robert Scheuer, who claims he was injured after a defective switch disabled his airbag in a 2014 wreck, hired New York lawyer Priya Chaudhry to represent him in any criminal matters arising from claims he lied on the witness stand. GM says Scheuer fabricated details of his family’s eviction from their “dream home” after the accident to pin the blame on the company.
The allegation “goes to the core of the Scheuers’ credibility,” GM lawyers said Wednesday in a filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. “Having pursued what appears to be a false claim with untruthful testimony, plaintiff does not simply get to walk away without any consequences and with the jury never being the wiser.”
Scheuer’s lawyer, Robert Hilliard, one of the leading plaintiffs’ attorneys in the U.S., declined to comment on GM’s allegations, saying it’s now a matter for his client’s criminal defender. Chaudhry declined to comment on the company’s accusations.
“This case is about whether there’s a defect,” Hilliard said Wednesday after court. “GM is screaming louder about a different issue in hopes the jury will forget about the defect.”
The jury, the first to hear a civil case over the ignition switch flaw, hasn’t been made aware of the new allegations, which GM says came to light after the trial started. The judge overseeing the case is weighing GM’s request to tell jurors about the alleged perjury and fraud. The trial is expected to last several more weeks.
The switch defect has already cost the company more than $2 billion in legal costs and settlements, though GM is challenging liability in hundreds of individual cases.
GM also accused Scheuer’s wife, Lisa, of perjury and lying in pretrial depositions. She hired a criminal-defense lawyer of her own, Charles Clayman, after the judge overseeing the case advised her Tuesday to do so. Both of the new lawyers appeared in court Wednesday. Arguments about the claims are scheduled for today.
“If the allegations regarding Mr. Scheuer are accurate, he could face federal criminal perjury charges,” Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who isn’t involved in the case, said Wednesday. “Mail fraud and forgery of checks, if proven, would be serious crimes on their own, on top of perjury.”
A jury in place for almost two weeks has already heard extensive evidence, including depositions of GM engineers and details of how Scheuer’s 2003 Saturn Ion ran off an Oklahoma highway and hit a tree in May 2014.
Scheuer, a mail carrier who had a long history of neck and back injuries before the accident, started looking for a larger home for his family three weeks after the wreck, while he was purportedly bedridden, GM says.
Scheuer, his wife and two children were evicted from the house in Sand Springs, Okla., in September 2014, not long after they moved in.
Scheuer testified they were evicted because he misplaced a check for a down payment as a result of memory loss from the crash. The details Scheuer provided about that aspect of his case changed repeatedly before the trial, GM said, leading to his claim on the witness stand that he had no memories of any events for three months around the home purchase.
GM says an Oklahoma real estate agent came forward after the trial started, offering evidence that Scheuer was evicted for using a forged check stub from his federal government retirement account as “proof of funds” to close on the sale and move in.
The carmaker asked the court Tuesday for permission to allow the real estate agent to testify, as well as a forensic technology expert GM sent to Tulsa, Okla., to examine the evidence on the real estate agent’s mobile phone and computer.
According to GM, Scheuer altered the original check by adding “$441” to the original amount, $430.72, making it appear to be $441,430.72. The carmaker said he also altered the date and used Postal Service stickers from his job to make it appear the check had been mailed, when it hadn’t.
GM included an image of the check stub in its court filing, and the “441” appears to be in a slightly smaller font than the rest of the amount.