Days after the first General Motors Co. ignition-switch case collapsed midtrial in New York, Robert Hilliard, the lead plaintiff's attorney, reflected on what went wrong — and what lessons he learned.
The credibility of Hilliard's client, Robert Scheuer of Oklahoma, came under attack after GM's lawyers obtained evidence of a fabricated check and other materials that conflicted with his trial testimony. "It goes under the secret lies of people," Hilliard told The National Law Journal last week. "You do everything you can to learn everything you can, and if they're determined not to be forthright, sometimes you just can't discover it."
At trial, Scheuer blamed the 2014 crash of his Saturn Ion on an ignition-switch defect, over which GM recalled 2.6 million cars and trucks worldwide. The case was the first bellwether trial over GM's ignition switch.
The interview with Hilliard of Corpus Christi, Texas-based Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, was edited for length and clarity.
The NLJ: In the past, you've slammed some GM actions as "all saddle and no horse." This description might be appropriate for the Scheuer case. Candidly, what happened?
Hilliard: We had vetted this plaintiff pretty thoroughly. This issue that came up at trial was one even GM had missed completely until someone called their hotline in the middle of trial.
And the plaintiff had testified for many hours, honestly and directly on cross-examination, about very embarrassing previous medical conditions.
And so there was simply no indication that apparently he had sent a text picture of a check that must have been doctored to a realtor so he could prove to the realtor he had funds necessary to buy the house.
NLJ: Although nobody accused plaintiffs lawyers of knowing about the apparent fraud, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman did raise concerns about failures in discovery and vetting. What could you have done differently?
Hilliard: We had no reason on such a minor issue when turning over all the rocks on big issues to believe we should chase down a realtor whose name we didn't know and [who'd] never been identified until he contacted GM and confirmed that part of the story.
I didn't see any red flags. I had a team of very experienced lawyers who didn't see red flags. I had a team in Oklahoma who didn't see red flags. They had people all over Oklahoma, all over this little town, turning up everything they could, and they never found this guy.
I wish the judge was right — that with more discovery we would have found it — but there was simply no way.
Read more: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202748404622/Why-the-GM-Trial-Imploded#ixzz3zmnhGan2