GM Ordered To Pay Owners $103M Over Faulty Piston Rings: Lawsuit

A jury awarded $2,700 each to 38,000 members of the class action lawsuit brought against GM.

byLewin Day|
GM News photo

GM was handed down a $102.6 million verdict in a class action trial on Tuesday, which was brought against the company over defective piston rings.

As covered by The Recorder, the case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs were owners of GM trucks and SUVs built from 2011 to 2014, fitted with GM's Vortec 5.3-liter V8 engine. The case alleged that GM had built the engines with defective piston rings, resulting in excess oil consumption leading to premature engine wear and failure.

A federal jury heard the case and took two days to deliberate on the outcome. The verdict found in the plaintiff's favor, and awarded $2,700 to the 38,000 individuals that joined the class action suit, across Idaho, North Carolina, and California.

GM claimed in the suit that less than 3% of vehicles involved required repairs to solve the oil consumption issue. It also stated that there was no consistent piston ring issue shared across the vehicles owned by those involved in the class action.

The lawsuit told a very different story, however. Originally filed in 2016, and amended eight times, it claimed that internal documents highlighted that GM knew about the piston ring defect in the Vortec engine as early as 2009. It also stated that GM took ineffective measures to try and solve the problem. In 2010, GM had told dealers to clean the pistons of affected engines, which failed to help. GM's engineers later changed the piston ring design in 2011 to try and solve the issue, to little effect. The oil consumption problems persisted until the engine was discontinued after production for the 2014 model year.

“Very few class action cases ever go to trial, let alone to verdict,” said Adam Levitt, of DiCello Levitt, the law firm that led the class action suit for the plaintiffs. "This one did, and we did it," he added. Indeed, it's not the only class action GM has faced lately. Other matters concerning paint defects and destination charges have gone through the courts in recent years.

$102.6 million is a hefty sum, but it won't ding GM too badly. After all, the company made $17.9 billion in profit last year. As for the individuals involved, $2,700 won't pay for an engine swap, nor is it really enough for a deposit on a new truck. It's something, though, and the owners can at least feel that their complaints have finally been heard.

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