Beasley Allen lawyers Clay Barnett, Rebecca Gilliland, Mitch Williams and Dylan Martin, along with DiCello, Levitt, Gutzler and local counsel Jennie Anderson of Andrus Anderson, secured a $102.6 million verdict from a San Francisco, California, Federal Court jury. The jury found that all GM Generation IV Vortec 5300 LC9 engines in California, Idaho and North Carolina are faulty because their defective piston rings caused excessive oil consumption. The defect significantly reduces the longevity of the engine’s components and the value of the plaintiffs’ vehicles. It also can create safety risks.
“We are pleased that the jury understood the issue in detail and rendered a verdict in favor of the class members, who need relief for this defective engine,” said Beasley Allen lawyer and co-lead trial counsel Clay Barnett. “The evidence was clear that GM engineers knew about this defect in this model engine as far back as 2009 but remained silent about the defect because of the cost associated with curing the problem.”
The jury awarded $2,700.00 per car for each class member in the three states that were tried. This amounts to approximately 38,000 vehicles and resulted in a class verdict for the three states of little more than $102.6 million. The two-week trial concluded on Oct. 4, 2022, and the jury deliberated two days before rendering its verdict for the plaintiffs’ class.
The affected vehicles include most GM trucks and SUVs from 2011 to 2014.
The Northern District of California Federal Judge Edward Chen presided over the class action trial filed in 2016. The discovery phase and trial scheduling were delayed due to the COVID19 pandemic. The parties were anxious to try the case.
The plaintiffs argued that GM violated the state’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and for breach of express and implied warranty, fraudulent omission, and unjust enrichment. In August, GM made a third failed attempt to dismiss class representatives.
During trial, plaintiffs’ evidence showed that GM knew about the oil consumption defect soon after the engine was placed on the market because of an extraordinary number of complaints and warranty claims. Still, GM continued selling vehicles that were equipped with defective engines. In response to the complaints and warranty claims, GM instructed its dealers to use stop-gap fixes to address the problem, failing to provide a complete remedy. GM admitted under oath that it chose to use a less effective fix to save on repair costs.
Beasley Allen and the rest of the trial team filed classes with similar issues in eight other states that are currently being litigated.
“Our work is not done on this GM issue,” Clay declared.
The Engine Defect
The engines’ piston rings fail to keep oil in the crankcase and combustion gases in the combustion chamber. GM’s “Active Fuel Management” system worsens the defect by covering the piston rings with oil spray. The extra pressure pushes excess oil into the combustion chamber, which either burns or collects as carbon buildup.
As the carbon collects, it coats the spark plugs, which struggle to ignite the gasoline in the combustion chamber. The results are poor ignition, misfire, power loss and eventual engine stall.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit also explains that the vehicles’ oil monitoring systems fail to warn drivers about problems with the engine’s oil levels because it doesn’t monitor the actual oil level. Instead, it monitors engine conditions such as temperature to guess the expected deterioration in oil quality.
Further, the oil pressure gauge does not light up until the engines are well past the point of being critically oil starved. The result is that vehicle owners can drive thousands of miles without warning that the engine lacks proper lubricant. This significantly reduces the life of the engine components. It decreases the value of the plaintiff’s vehicle and increases the safety risk to the vehicle’s owner and others who share the road.