General Motors Co has asked a judge to reject efforts by a lawyer who first publicly exposed a faulty ignition switch in GM vehicles to undo a settlement fund resolving 1,380 death and injury lawsuits.
In a separate filing, the lead counsel for people suing over the defect called attempts to undo the settlement fund “both disappointing and disingenuous” and joined GM in asking U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan to reject motions filed last week by Georgia-based lawyer Lance Cooper.
Cooper said that one of the lawyers leading federal switch litigation, Robert Hilliard, struck the settlement mostly to enrich himself and his own clients, an allegation Hilliard denied.
Furman is overseeing federal litigation that hit GM after its 2014 recall of 2.6 million vehicles over defective ignition switches that can slip out of place and have been linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths.
Cooper had accused Hilliard of working with General Motors to cut a mutually beneficial deal and strategy. GM and the lead counsel for plaintiffs both denied that claim.
The settlement was announced in September, alongside a separate resolution with shareholders over GM’s recall. GM said it would take a $575 million charge related to those settlements.
Cooper has asked Furman, who oversees federal switch lawsuits, to rescind approval of the settlement fund, and to remove Hilliard and co-counsel Steve Berman and Elizabeth Cabraser from lead roles in the litigation.
Cooper’s motions were filed days after the abrupt dismissal of a first bellwether, or test, trial when evidence surfaced calling the plaintiff’s testimony into question. Cooper said that lead counsel bungled that case and excluded other attorneys from the process.
Lead counsel said they had worked tirelessly and cooperatively for all plaintiffs. Although the bellwether fell apart, they defended their selection and said that their work on that case would ultimately benefit other plaintiffs.
GM and lead plaintiffs’ counsel also said Cooper waited more than a month to object to Furman’s order, despite a 14-day cutoff for such filings.
Cooper could not immediately be reached for comment and a GM spokesman said the filing spoke for itself. Hilliard and Berman said the motions were baseless sideshows.
“This is a legally fallow attempt to undermine years of hard work and cooperative effort,” Hilliard said. (Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Grant McCool)