October 12, 2005 – Justices reject bid to halt air bag suit

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling that let a nationwide class-action lawsuit go forward in an Oklahoma state court.  The lawsuit, filed against General Motors Corp., contends that 420,000 cars were equipped with airbags that might deploy unnecessarily.

The lawsuit concerns GM’s Chevrolet Malibu and Oldsmobile Cutlass models assembled in its Oklahoma City plant from 1997 to 1999.

Detroit-based GM argued in court papers filed in Washington that Oklahoma courts were unconstitutionally "overriding the regulatory decisions of sister states" by considering the legal claims of consumers around the country.

Lawyers for the consumers urged the Supreme Court not to get involved, pointing to a 2005 federal law that changed many of the rules for future class-action suits.

The consumers say that a software glitch, later corrected by GM, makes their air bags prone to deploy inadvertently, potentially causing serious injury or death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the issue in 1999 and decided no action was warranted.

In letting the case go forward, a state trial judge said that changing the software would cost about $500 per car, or $210 million for the entire class. An Oklahoma appeals court upheld the decision to let the case proceed as a class action.

The Supreme Court last year rejected an appeal raising almost identical issues in an Oklahoma air bag case involving DaimlerChrysler.

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