General Motors Co. was told by a U.S. judge to provide more explanation for why she shouldn’t force it to tell drivers of 2.59 million recalled small cars to “park it” until faulty ignition switches are fixed.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, at the end of a hearing yesterday in Corpus Christi, Texas, gave the lawyers for GM until April 9 to submit written arguments. The judge was considering what would be an unprecedented order by a court to instruct GM on how to handle its recall of the faulty cars.
Customers asked for the order because they say it’s the only “fail-safe solution” to defects linked to 13 deaths, which they say make the cars too dangerous to drive before being repaired.
“No court has ever done what the plaintiffs are asking this court to do,” David Balser, a lawyer for GM, said during the hearing. He said the order would also be unnecessary because replacement parts are on their way to dealers and repairs to recalled cars will begin next week.
The request for a park-it order was made in a lawsuit by the owners of a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt. The lawyer representing them also represents plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court in Corpus Christi seeking as much as $10 billion for the lost value of Cobalts and other small-car models recalled this year. The Detroit-based automaker is facing lawsuits by car owners or investors in Michigan and California, among other states, as well as lawsuits involving injuries and deaths as it seeks to address criticism it knew of the defect for at least a decade and failed to correct it.
Bob Hilliard, a lawyer for plaintiffs, said it was important for the court to act quickly because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no authority to issue “park it now” alerts to recalled vehicle owners.
Balser said Hilliard was mistaken. NHTSA wouldn’t have approved the automaker’s recall notice if it felt the cars should be grounded, he told the judge.
After the session, Hilliard said he expects Ramos to rule on the emergency request after reviewing GM’s replies, without another hearing. During a mid-hearing conference with attorneys in her chambers yesterday, the judge told lawyers she was willing to “go fast but she needed more time to read it all,” Hilliard said.
“We’re here on an emergency motion because this is an ongoing public safety issue,” Hilliard had said in court.
“There’s no mechanism that can protect tomorrow’s victims but this court,” said Hilliard, of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP in Corpus Christi.
He told the judge GM’s estimate that it will take until October to complete repairs on all the affected vehicles is too long.
“Between now and October, accidents will happen and there will be deaths,” Hilliard said. “What we’re asking is unprecedented, but it is allowed, and the court is allowed to do it to save lives.”
The case is Silvas v. General Motors LLC, 14-cv-00089, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Corpus Christi).