GM ignition switch trial ends abruptly amid claims of fraud

By Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A trial that was supposed to help settle hundreds of lawsuits stemming from General Motors’ faulty ignition switches abruptly ended last Friday, a day after the judge raised questions about the plaintiff’s truthfulness.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman called ending the trial the “right and sensible thing” as he dismissed the jury hearing the case in which Robert Scheuer, an Oklahoma man, claimed a faulty ignition switch prevented his air bags from inflating when his car crashed in 2014.

Last Thursday, Furman agreed that a check stub Scheuer sent to a real estate agent in 2014 appeared “quite clearly” to have been doctored and that new evidence could show he was more physically functional after his accident than he claimed. By the next morning, General Motors Co. and Scheuer’s lawyers said they wanted to call the trial off.

“We said all along that each case would be decided on its own merits, and we had already started to show by strong, clear and convincing evidence to the jury that the ignition switch didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Scheuer’s accident or injuries,” General Motors said in a statement. “The apparent lies the plaintiff and his wife told the jury ended the trial early, and we are pleased that the case is over without any payment whatsoever to Mr. Scheuer.”

Scheuer’s lawyer, Robert C. Hilliard, said it was disappointing the trial was ending, “especially one such as this where the concerns regarding the underlying safety of certain GM’s vehicles are legitimate and real.”

Hilliard said the overall litigation involving other plaintiffs would continue. By trial’s end, criminal defense lawyers had been assigned to Scheuer and his wife, Lisa, both of whom had testified.

Attorney Charles Clayman told Furman that Lisa Scheuer did not lie. A message left last Friday on Robert Scheuer’s cellphone was not returned.

Last Thursday, Furman had urged lawyers for Scheuer and Detroit-based GM to consider moving on to five other bellwether trials scheduled for later this year.

Scheuer, of Tulsa, had said he suffered injuries when his air bags failed to deploy after another car ran his 2003 Saturn Ion off a rural road on May 28, 2014.

On the trial’s first day, an Oklahoma real estate agent who had accused Scheuer of fraud in a police complaint heard a radio report about the trial and reached out to GM, the automaker said in court papers.

GM said the Realtor could testify that $441,000 was added to what was originally a $430 check to convince him there were sufficient funds for a $275,000 home. The company said he could also testify that Scheuer was not confined to a bed or chair after the accident but in fact made trips to the home and even took a vacation.

Since early 2014, GM has issued recalls affecting more than 30 million vehicles. The recalls came long after GM learned of the ignition switch defect in Chevy Cobalts and other small cars. The switches can slip out of the on position, causing the cars to stall, knocking out power steering and turning off air bags. GM says it has fixed the problem.

At the trial’s start, GM attorney Mike Brock said the automaker’s probe of the accident revealed that Scheuer was not honest about his claims.

The lawyer noted that Scheuer, a postal worker, had a two-decade history of surgeries and pain medication prescriptions for spinal issues. He also said information from Scheuer’s cellphone contradict his claims he was unconscious for three hours after the accident.

Scheuer’s lawyer didn’t dispute GM’s claims directly but argued they were being made too late.

In September, GM announced it had reached a deal to settle 1,385 death and injury cases for $275 million and a class-action shareholders’ lawsuit for $300 million.

The company paid nearly $600 million to settle 399 claims made to a fund it established. Those claims covered 124 deaths and 275 injuries, though GM’s fund rejected more than 90 percent of the 4,343 claims it received, according to figures the company released in December.

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