General Motors has been found liable to pay $102.6 million across 38,000 members of a federal class action suit surrounding the Vortec LC9 engine.
GMT900-platform vehicles built from 2010-2014, like the Chevrolet Silverado, were found to have a faulty piston ring design, leading to significant engine problems.
Owners of these vehicles in California, North Carolina, and Idaho may receive a payout of $2700 per person, though GM plans to appeal the verdict.
It's been over a decade since General Motors emerged from bankruptcy in July of 2009. The so-called "New GM" released a range of re-designed models shortly thereafter, with the hopes of kickstarting the company back to life. The most notorious of these models were built on the GMT900 platform, including models like the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Sierra, powered by the fourth-generation Vortec LC9 engine. Unfortunately, these halo models have come back to bite GM 13 years later, to the tune of $102.6 million.
Specifically, the Vortec LC9 5.3-liter V8 used on GMT900 models from 2010 to 2014 is responsible for lawsuits across the country, due to its defective piston rings that allowed oil to travel beyond the crankcase. A Federal class action lawsuit brought on by 38,000 vehicle owners in California, Idaho, and North Carolina alleges that this defect resulted in constantly fouled spark plugs, excessive carbon build-up, and even motor failure due to oil loss. And the plaintiffs have successfully argued their case, with a federal jury verdict ordering the payment of $102.6 million by GM across the 38,000 owners in the class action. That's $2700 per person.
"I am also thankful for the courage of the jury, which did the right thing in holding GM responsible for its deceit and half-hearted efforts to address its problems," said Christopher Stombaugh, lead trial counsel in the case and a partner at DiCello Levitt, the firm representing the plaintiffs.
GM is contesting this result and has said that it does not believe this verdict is supported by the evidence. The automotive giant will seek post-trial relief and plans to appeal the verdict if the Court allows it to stand. And it may have merit to do so, considering similar Vortec engine class action suits have been dismissed in other states like Ohio, Virginia, and Washington.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean the folks in Detroit are in for an easy fight. After the original case, Raul Siqueiros, et al. v. General Motors LLC. was filed in 2016, owners across the country have since filed class action suits, with a Federal trial ongoing in New York. All of these lawsuits hinge on the courts finding that GMs defective products and attempted solutions violated that state's consumer protections, meaning one case can be dismissed in Ohio while another is tied to a verdict in California.
GM has fired back at these allegations in court, stating that only 3% of the vehicles included in the suit require repairs for oil consumption. Despite this, the engine was plagued with trouble from the beginning, with problems stemming from the piston rings as well as the fuel management system, and was eventually taken out of production in 2014. It was replaced by another 5.3-liter V8, the EcoTec3 L83.
While $102.6 million isn't bank-breaking for General Motors, the company is adamant about stomping out these suits. It's relatively rare to see a class action lawsuit go to trial and to see one with a verdict in favor of the classes, and it's possible GM doesn't want to set a precedent with the case. As the case may reach a Federal Court of Appeals soon, the 38,000 members of the class action will likely have to wait a bit longer for their money.