Hayes + Associates' biomechanical analysis plays role in monumental GM ignition switch settlement


Analysis by Hayes + Associates, Inc., an expert witness and consulting firm in Corvallis, ORE., played a role in the September 2016 settlement of two cases resulting from a faulty General Motors ignition switch, implicated in 124 deaths and 275 injuries, that cut power to engine and safety features including power steering, power brakes and airbags.

According to Mike Spector, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, the cases were two among a half dozen originally selected for so-called bellwether trials that were aimed at setting settlement patterns for remaining personal injury and wrongful death suits. The cases arose from GM’s recall in early 2014 of roughly 2.6 million older cars with faulty ignition switches that risked jostling off and disabling the vehicle. GM reached a preliminary agreement announced September 5 to settle the lawsuits that alleged injuries tied to the defective ignition switches, said Bob Hilliard, a Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer with the firm of Hilliard & Shadowen. Hilliard’s advocacy for victims of accidents caused by GM’s defective ignition switch led to his appointment by Federal Judge Jesse Furman as co-lead counsel in this multi-district litigation, considered the single largest product liability litigation in U.S. history.

Hayes + Associates’ work involved one of the two bellwether cases, that of Virginia resident Stephanie Cockram, who sued GM over severe injuries she alleged had resulted from a single-vehicle crash of her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt on June 28, 2011.
The H + A team, including Matt Soicher, Mark Erickson, and CEO Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, sought to determine through biomechanical analysis how Ms. Cockram sustained her severe facial and pelvic injuries, and if these injuries would have been avoided with the deployment of a functional frontal airbag. Analysis by the H+A team demonstrated that her injuries directly resulted from the failed deployment of the vehicle’s airbag and its seatbelt pretensioners. In the event of a crash, a seatbelt pretensioner, powered like the airbag by the ignition switch and triggered by sensors, will tighten the belt almost instantaneously, reducing the motion of the occupant. The team concluded Ms. Cockram’s injuries would have been less severe or completely eliminated had the steering-wheel-mounted airbag and driver’s side seatbelt pretensioner deployed during the collision.