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GM Seeks Consolidation, Delay of Texas Ignition Cases

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors LLC and Delphi Automotive Systems LLC asked the Texas Supreme Court to merge four driver-injury suits tied to faulty ignition switches into one state case, just as it earlier moved to combine litigation over the loss of value tied to cars recalled due to the defect.

“Litigating each of these matters separately will involve enormous time and expense,” GM’s attorneys said yesterday in a filing in Austin. The wrongful-death and physical-injury cases filed so far are the “first but probably not the last” GM will face in Texas courts, they said.

“Transfer of these lawsuits and any future ‘tag-along’ cases to a single pretrial court will eliminate duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings, conserve judicial resources, be more convenient for the parties and witnesses and otherwise promote a more just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” the lawyers said. If they aren’t combined, GM said, “there will remain multiple lawsuits, in multiple courts of the state, involving similar parties and issues.”

U.S. companies make such arguments when they seek to combine similar suits into one. Detroit-based GM cited efficiency in its bid to consolidate litigation in federal courts over economic injuries tied to more than 2.59 million U.S. vehicles recalled for faulty ignition switches.

Texas lawyer Bob Hilliard, who is handling one of the injury suits, says he will oppose GM’s latest move, which might hurt customers.

The four cases have “different lawyers, different strategies,” he said in an e-mail today. “My clients hired me for a reason. My abilities, strategies and view of how to proceed in their best interest is unique." 

Suits usually are deemed to be related if they are filed by people in a similar position and make similar claims. A draft of Hilliard’s response to GM contends that suits involving different cars made in different years aren’t truly related, and putting them in one court wouldn’t promote efficiency, or be convenient for all parties.

Texans’ Injuries

The cases in yesterday’s request for consolidation and delay involve claims of physical injuries or wrongful deaths to Texans. GM, while contesting claims for the loss in value of recalled cars, has said it accepts responsibility for accident victims, no matter when the cars were made or when the accidents occurred.

One suit was filed by a Lufkin woman who lost both legs and broke her spine when the Pontiac Solstice she was driving suddenly switched off, skidded off the road and hit a tree about two months before the vehicle was recalled for ignition switch defects, according to court papers.

Another involves a Corpus Christi woman who said she suffered ‘‘severe and permanent spinal injuries” when the Chevy Cobalt she was driving stalled, causing a collision with another car 17 days before GM issued the ignition-switch recall in February.

The state high court is reviewing the request and told the customers to answer GM by June 9.

Separately, a panel of judges in Chicago will decide this month whether to combine lawsuits against GM over claims for compensation for recalled cars’ loss in value.

Moving to combine the injury suits, the carmaker said the U.S. court system has such panels to avoid having multiple judges all handling similar suits against a defendant.

The case is In Re General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, 14-0399, Texas Supreme Court, Before the Multi-District Litigation Panel of Texas (Austin).

To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Calkins in Houston at lcalkins@bloomberg.net; Linda Sandler in New York at lsandler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Charles Carter, Fred Strasser

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