General Motors has settled two cases related to an issue with a defective ignition switch that was linked to over 124 deaths and 275 injuries. The cases reach back to a May 2014 incident in Oklahoma, involving an accident where the ignition switch prevented the airbag from deploying. The man driving the car was Robert Scheuer, 49, who was left severely injured when his car careened into a tree, and the collision safety mechanisms failed to activate. Those vehicles, the 2003 Saturn Ion model, were recalled in 2014 for the faulty ignition switch. The source of the problem was that the switch had the potential to slip out of the “run” position, which disabled the vehicle’s safety features, specifically the airbags. Scheuer’s case is one of many “bellwether” cases on the issue.
In layman’s terms, a bellwether case, or bellwether trial, is a term for a case that is meant to serve as somewhat of a test or model for heavily contested issues of the law. These types of cases are common in scenarios where one defendant has several cases filed against them in regards to one particular incident or issue. Citing bellwether cases can be helpful in court to reduce the large volume of cases. For GM, these cases will help determine the course of a number of related lawsuits have been filed against them for the problems with the ignition switch.