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A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday blocked most lawsuits against General Motors over a defective ignition switch that is tied to at least 84 deaths, sparing the automaker billions in claims and handing it a momentous victory as it tries to move past its gravest safety crisis.

Judge Robert E. Gerber of the United State Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan ruled that the liability shield included in the 2009 agreement that lifted G.M. from bankruptcy should be allowed to remain in place, even though the company has acknowledged that many employees knew about the defective switch at the time but failed to alert owners of the cars that they might have a potential claim against the company.

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