By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) – General Motors Co said Tuesday a Texas judge had denied its bid to throw out a lawsuit over a fatal 2011 crash blamed on a faulty ignition switch, after the company accused a car driver and his lawyers of fabricating evidence about the vehicle’s key.
Harris County Judge Robert Schaffer said in his mid-trial ruling, however, that he would instruct jurors that a key shown to them was not the one used by Zachary Stevens to drive the 2007 Saturn Sky involved in the crash, according to GM.
GM moved to dismiss the case on Monday, saying the key displayed in the courtroom did not belong to that vehicle and accused Stevens and his parents of trying to buttress their case by displaying a key chain carrying more weight than the one actually used in the crash.
The carmaker, which recalled 2.6 million vehicles in 2014 for defective ignition switches, has warned that added weight to key chains can cause the switches to rotate out of position and cut power to brakes, steering and air bags.
Stevens previously said that he had just a few items on his key chain at the time of the crash, while the key chain shown to jurors had additional items attached to it, including a gym membership card and souvenir Eiffel Tower.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers acknowledged in a court filing on Monday evening the key displayed in court was not the one from the crash but said GM was attempting to turn a “justifiable misunderstanding” about the key “into a criminal conspiracy.”
According to Stevens, switch rotation caused him to lose control of the car, hitting another vehicle and killing the driver.
GM maintains Stevens’ driving caused the accident. In a statement, the company said: “It will be up to the jury to make sense of the plaintiffs’ confusing, contradictory and misleading story about the key.”
Josh Davis, a lawyer for Stevens, said GM’s claims that his client intended to mislead jurors were “ridiculous.”
“This is not the stuff of John Grisham, but a simple mistake,” he said.
Stevens filed the lawsuit last year and it is the first to go to trial among roughly 20 pending in Texas state court.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Grant McCool and Alan Crosby)