Legal victory for Mid-Michigan man suing GM over defective ignition switches

Published: Jul. 17, 2015 at 5:32 PM EDT
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(07/17/15) - There is a big legal victory for a Mid-Michigan man who is suing General Motors over its defective ignition switches.

It's a ruling that could have ramifications in other GM ignition switch cases, too.

At issue is this - can GM legally shield itself from crashes that happened before the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009? In Katie Pillars' case, a judge says 'no.'

Katie was badly injured in a 2005 car crash and spent the next seven years in a coma before dying in 2012. A Federal judge says those circumstances will allow her husband to sue General Motors.

"This is a great victory for that family," said Victor Mastromarco, Ben Pillar's attorney.

Ben, Katie's husband, believes the 2004 Grand Am his wife Katie was driving had a defective ignition switch and that caused her to crash into another car in Arenac County in 2005.

That car is included in an ignition switch recall, but GM denied the Bay City man's claim that it be included in the defective ignition switch compensation fund. GM argued that it was shielded from liability because the accident happened before the company emerged from bankruptcy.

On Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Gerber made a surprising ruling in a New York courtroom.

"The court found that General Motors, based on the pleadings that they had filed, made admissions that the jurisdiction in the bankruptcy court was not proper with regard to our case, and therefore lifted the stay, which is probably the only case in the country where the stay has been lifted," Mastromarco said.

The judge ruled that Katie's death after GM's bankruptcy is a circumstance that allows the lawsuit to proceed out of bankruptcy court. Mastromarco says it's not clear how Thursday's ruling might affect hundreds of other cases involving crashes that happened before 2009.

Northwood University Vice President Tim Nash doesn't expect too much impact on other ignition switch litigation.

"I think this is a rare instance and I would not see it affecting public policy or payouts," he said.

General Motors spokesperson James Cain says the company is evaluating the ruling and that a decision has not been made on an appeal.

"If they appeal this ruling by this judge, it just shows, it throws the spotlight on what their true intent is, they are not here to help anybody," Mastromarco said.

The next ruling in the case should determine whether the Pillars' case goes to Federal Court or is remanded back to Bay County Circuit Court.

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