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Laconia mom settles with GM over failed airbag

Union Leader Correspondent

December 26. 2017 10:44PM
In 2014, GM admitted that employees had known for a decade that faulty ignitions could suddenly cut engine power and disable airbags, often with tragic results. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

Paige Garneau, 19, of Laconia, shown in a selfie was killed in a Sept. 2, 2012, car crash. Her mother sued GM, claiming an ignition switch defect kept the airbags from deploying.

LACONIA — A local woman whose daughter was killed in a car crash has settled a lawsuit with General Motors that claimed the air bags failed to deploy because of an ignition switch defect.

The amount of the settlement remains confidential. It is at least $200,000, because that is the threshold set by state law in court filings in which a judge approves the attorney fees and costs.

In August 2015, Jenny Garneau filed a product liability suit against the auto giant and Quirk GMC of Manchester. Her daughter, Paige, 19, of Laconia, suffered fatal head injuries as an unrestrained front-seat passenger in a 2010 Chevy Impala driven by Robert Pitts Jr. of Weare.

The driver’s father had reported the black sedan stolen. With Northfield and Tilton police on his tail on Sept. 12, 2012, Pitts took Exit 17 off I-93 in Concord. He later pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, among other charges, and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.

Probate court records show Garneau’s estate earlier asserted a claim against the driver’s insurer alleging negligent operation, and settled for the policy maximum of $250,000, which was reduced to $187,500 following the payment of attorney fees and costs.

Attorney A.G. O’Neil Jr. of Laconia represented Jenny Garneau as the administrator of her daughter’s estate.

The trial was scheduled to be held in Belknap County Superior Court in January. Its start had been stalled several times to allow the lawyers to access a database amassed as part of federal multi-district litigation in New York.

The local settlement was brokered just a month after the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office announced the state was receiving $1.18 million as its share of a $120 million settlement reached between the attorney generals of 49 states and GM.

The settlement concluded an investigation into the auto maker’s failure to disclose safety defects in a timely manner.

The states alleged some GM workers knew as early as 2004 that the ignition switch issue could cause air bags not to work. The states argued that GM personnel decided the issue did not pose a safety concern and delayed making recalls of 2.6 million vehicles.

The ignition switch defects have been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

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