Marietta, GA—An action to rescind a reported $5 million settlement and renew a wrongful death suit against General Motors over a defective vehicle ignition switch will move forward, after a Cobb County State Court Judge rejected defense arguments in their motion to dismiss.
In an unusual Saturday morning hearing, Judge Kathryn J. Tanksley said she would deny a motion to dismiss in Melton v. General Motors after rejecting GM’s contention that the suit was barred by res judicata.
Kenneth and Mary Elizabeth Meltons’ daughter Brooke died in 2010 after her Chevrolet Cobalt struck an oncoming vehicle. The Meltons sued GM and auto dealership Thornton Chevrolet, contending that a faulty GM ignition switch in Brooke’s car shut off its engine while she was driving, causing her to lose control of the vehicle. They settled the claim against GM last year for a reported $5 million. GM subsequently recalled more than 2 million cars over the ignition switch defect. The Meltons then filed to rescind the settlement and renew their claims and argued that GM had lied to them in discovery and concealed knowledge of the defective ignition switch for years. At Saturday's hearing, Lance Cooper, representing the Meltons, contrasted video deposition of GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio's knowledge concerning the defective ignition switch design with subsequent, conflicting evidence in a Congressional inquiry concerning the faulty switches.
However, Brian Sieve, representing GM, argued that, regardless of the fraud claims, the Meltons' current action was barred by res judicata. Sieve contended that the Meltons should have moved to set aside the judgment in the initial action before filing a new complaint.
In a sometimes pointed exchange, Judge Tanksley rejected GM’s contention and said she believed that Georgia law, including the state's law of rescission, did not require the Meltons to submit a formal motion to set aside the prior judgement. Giving “effect to the law and public policy… would be to put the parties back where they originally were and that all has to be played out properly,” Judge Tanksley said. “I don’t think, at this stage, a motion to dismiss can be granted on res judicata.”
Discovery in the action is now slated to proceed, with responses due August 26.