By Dani Meyer
Law360, New York (March 3, 2016, 5:03 PM ET) -- Co-lead counsel in litigation against General Motors over its faulty ignition switches said Thursday that he supports a Maryland law seeking to end a rule allowing automakers to prevent dealers from sharing certain safety information with consumers.
Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales LLP said a "gag rule" that GM and other automakers use to stop dealers from telling drivers about warranty updates, service bulletins and other safety information is helping them keep quiet about dangerous defects.
"In light of the terrible experiences of the victims of GM's deadly ignition switch failures — a defect that cost the lives of at least 124 victims while the company waited more than 10 years to recall the more than 2 million cars affected, that 'gag rule' is intolerable," Hilliard said in a Thursday statement.
Hilliard strongly supports Amber's Law, a Maryland initiative aimed at ending the gag rule. The law is named after 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose, who died in a 2005 car crash caused by the ignition switch in her Chevy Cobalt.
Amber was one of the first to die as a result of the ignition switch defect, according to Hilliard, but it took nearly nine years after her death for GM to start recalling the affected vehicles.
"If we had known what GM knew about the ignition switch defect in 2005, we never would have bought that car — and Amber would be with us today," Amber's birth mother, Laura Christian, said in a statement. "The bill honors Amber by getting information that can save lives to all Maryland drivers and allowing dealers to stand up for their customers."
The bill, known as HB 982 in the General Assembly of Maryland and SB 666 in the Senate, would authorize dealers to share more details about vehicles with consumers without fear of retaliation from the manufacturer.
"Transparency will save lives. End of discussion," Hilliard said. "It is time to stop Detroit car companies from controlling who sees what. Their goals and to limit financial exposure, not save lives."
Hilliard is co-lead counsel in sprawling multidistrict litigation over GM's faulty ignition switches. On Wednesday, the judge overseeing the suits allowed the automaker to keep the seal on documents related to a $275 million settlement in September of more than 1,380 personal injury suits, finding that disclosing the documents could impact other settlement talks.
The MDL still includes economic loss suits, as well as roughly 370 injury suits and 84 death suits as of the time of the settlement. The injury plaintiffs who resolved their suits will be able to recover from the settlement based on their eligibility, which will be determined by an independent third-party special master, Hilliard told Law360 at the time the settlements were announced.
The first bellwether trial in the MDL took place in January, but the driver in that case, Robert Scheuer, abruptly dismissed his claims after Judge Furman found that GM had raised valid questions about his credibility.
The second bellwether trial involves plaintiffs Dionne Spain and Lawrence Barthelemy, who have sued GM over injuries stemming from a January 2014 accident in New Orleans. That trial is scheduled to begin on March 14.
The case is In Re: General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation, case number 1:14-cv-02543, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
— Additional reporting by Sindhu Sundar. Editing by Ben Guilfoy.