GM settles lawsuits over engine coolant problems

DETROIT, March 27 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp GM.N has agreed to pay up to $150 million to settle a series of five-year-old class action lawsuits claiming engine damage from faulty coolants, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

The No. 1 U.S. automaker will reimburse between $50 and $800 to each GM customer affected, according to the settlement agreement filed in a California state court.

The engine repairs were linked to Dex-Cool, a coolant GM used in Chevrolet and Buick and other models between 1995 and 2004, according to court documents released by attorneys for GM and the plaintiffs on Wednesday.

A California Superior Court judge in Alameda County granted preliminary approval to the settlement last week. The settlement covers all U.S. states excluding Missouri, which is covered by a separate agreement, documents showed.

The total cost to GM depends on how many customers claim damages, attorneys for the class said.

The settlement could cover up to 20 million initial and secondary buyers of GM vehicles that used Dex-Cool, putting the potential price tag at between $80 million to $150 million, a lawyer for the class of plaintiffs said.

“It’s hard to pin down, but we’re expecting there are 20 million or more potential people in the class,” said Eric Gibbs, a partner at San Francisco-based law firm Girard Gibbs LLP, who acted as court-appointed class counsel on the case.

The lawsuits, first filed in April 2003, alleged that Dex-Cool degraded manifold gaskets and other engine components and sometimes formed a rusty sludge that clogged cooling systems and caused vehicles to overheat.

GM has denied any wrongdoing and said the settlement was aimed at avoiding further costs and saving time.

“This agreement constitutes the resolution of disputed claims is for settlement purposes only ... Neither this agreement nor any actions undertaken by GM shall constitute an admission of any liability or wrongdoing,” GM said in the settlement filed with the court.

Customers who had repairs linked to the defect are required to submit a claim by October 27, 2008 to qualify for reimbursement.

A GM spokesman was not available for comment. (Reporting by Soyoung Kim)