NEW YORK -- General Motors on Thursday won a court ruling that could reduce the private litigation it faces over flawed vehicle ignition switches, which have been linked to 124 deaths and triggered a massive recall.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said the plaintiffs in two bellwether cases, involving accidents where airbags had deployed, could not introduce expert testimony to show how defective ignition switches might have played a role in the crashes.
The plaintiffs alleged that their GM ignition switches might have rotated from "run" at the moment of impact to "accessory" or "off," causing the accidents or making them worse, and then back to "run" before the airbags deployed.
But Furman, who oversees multidistrict litigation over the ignition switches, including 213 cases involving deployed airbags, called the testimony "unreliable" because there was no evidence that "double switch rotation" has occurred anywhere.
"The court recognizes that these conclusions may have a significant impact on a swath of cases now pending in the [multidistrict litigation] and, thus, does not reach them lightly," Furman wrote.
But the judge said his role is "to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony," and the opinions of the plaintiffs' experts "do not pass muster."
Bob Hilliard and Tamar Lusztig, two of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
GM spokesman David Caldwell said the decision "reinforces our approach to contest cases that lack merit, while being open to fair resolution of cases that have more merit according to the facts and the law."
GM has already paid more than $2.6 billion in penalties and settlements, including $900 million to settle a U.S. Department of Justice criminal case, over ignition switches that could cause engines to stall and prevent airbags from deploying.
The company has recalled more than 2.6 million vehicles over the defect since February 2014.
As of Nov. 30, there were 1,723 unresolved personal injury and wrongful-death claims in the multidistrict litigation. GM previously settled claims related to more than 1,700 claimants.
Thursday's decision dismissed claims by Vivian Garza, who was 19 when her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed on an icy highway in Alice, Texas, in February 2011.
It also dismissed claims by the son of Ruby Greenroad over the January 2013 crash of her 2007 Cobalt in the Houston area, court records show. Greenroad died at age 90 the following year.