Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GM Receives Preliminary Settlement Approval in Nationwide Auto-Repair Litigation

The Recorder reports that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman has preliminarily approved a 49-state class action settlement between General Motors and plaintiffs over auto repairs. The settlement is worth approximately $150 million to car owners even though it reportedly compensates them for only about 50% of the repairs. Here’s an excerpt:

Under the settlement, the class would be split into three groups based on the cars they drive, the type of engine and the kinds of repairs performed. Plaintiffs would collect $50 to $800 per repair, with speedier repairs generating larger reimbursements.

The settlement does not cap the total amount GM would pay class members, though it does set maximums in other areas: court-approved attorney fees of up to $16.5 million, litigation expenses of up to $1.55 million and total named plaintiffs' incentive awards of up to $140,000.

Lawyers in California and Missouri first filed suit against GM about five years ago, claiming the auto manufacturer used an engine coolant in factories that created performance problems in more than 30 models of GM cars, including the Oldsmobile Cutlass and Chevy Impala. All of the cases targeted Dex-Cool, a coolant GM started using with the 1995 model year. The suits asserted claims for breach of warranty and violations of unfair business practices statutes.

GM was represented by Robert Ellis, a Chicago-based partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Through a Kirkland spokesman, Ellis referred calls about the settlement to a General Motors spokesman, who declined to comment.

Earlier in the litigation, plaintiffs attorneys experienced some bumps along the road to class certification.

Four years ago, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw denied a motion seeking class certification to get declaratory judgment on one issue in the California piece of the litigation.

In 2006, after Sabraw retired from the Alameda County court, the same plaintiffs filed a motion seeking certification of a California class to establish liability. Judge Freedman denied that but said the plaintiffs could bring a renewed motion supported by additional evidence. The plaintiffs asked to certify a California class last year for a third time, supporting it with affidavits from four expert witnesses. That time, Freedman granted class certification.


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