In an August 2014 hearing, Judge Kathryn Tanskley explains why she is denying General Motors’ motion to dismiss Kenneth and Mary Elizabeth Meltons’ suit. The Meltons, who claimed their daughter, Brooke, died because of a faulty ignition switch in her GM car, settled their initial complaint in 2013 for $5 million. However, they rescinded that agreement and renewed their wrongful death suit last year, claiming GM had fraudulently concealed information to induce them to settle. On Friday, the Meltons settled their reopened suit against the manufacturer for a confidential amount.
Marietta, GA—The family of a driver allegedly killed because of a faulty ignition switch in a General Motors car reached a second settlement with the auto giant Friday. Melton v. General Motors, 2011-A-2652.
Kenneth and Mary Elizabeth Melton settled their wrongful death and fraud claims against both General Motors and auto dealership Thornton Chevrolet for a confidential sum. The Meltons' suit stemmed from a 2010 collision that killed their daughter Brooke. The Meltons contended the ignition switch in Brooke's Chrysler Cobalt turned off the engine while the car was in motion, causing her to strike an oncoming vehicle.
The settlement is the second in the case. In 2013, the Meltons agreed to a $5 million settlement of their claims. However, last year, the Meltons rescinded the agreement, contending GM had fraudulently withheld documents showing the auto manufacturer concealed the switch defect for years. GM has recalled more than 2 million cars because of the ignition switch defect and has faced congressional scrutiny regarding its knowledge of the faulty switch. Friday's settlement includes a confidential award calculated by the GM Ignition Compensation Claims Resolution Facility, administered by Kenneth Feinberg. The fund, established by GM, has received more than 4,000 claims for compensation and has linked more than 65 deaths to the defect, according to published reports.
The Cooper Firm's Lance Cooper, representing the Meltons, said his clients agreed to the settlement after accomplishing their goal of revealing "the truth" surrounding GM's knowledge of the switch defect. In a press conference Monday, Cooper called the Meltons' decision to rescind their initial settlement "The most courageous thing I have ever had clients do."
Cooper said reopening the case led similar state and multidistrict litigation claims to be fast tracked, releasing "millions" of documents concerning GM's knowledge of the switch defect. "What (the Meltons) wanted was to pursue this second lawsuit in order to get at the truth," Cooper said. "The truth has been uncovered."
Friday's settlement came before a scheduled Tuesday hearing on the Meltons' subpoena of King & Spalding documents concerning the firm's representation of GM. The firm had argued that the notes were protected by attorney-client privilege.
Last August, GM unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the Meltons' reopened suit on res judicata grounds. In denying the motion during a hearing recorded by CVN, Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanskley told the parties "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."
Although the settlement ends the Meltons' suit, similar ignition switch defect claims continue to progress against GM, with the first federal trial set for January 2016. However, Beasley Allen's Jere Beasley, representing the Meltons, told reporters he doubts any of the lawsuits will reach a jury. "Once it gets to a trial setting, GM cannot afford to let the public know how bad they have been," Beasley said.
Representatives for GM could not immediately be reached for comment.
Watch last August's dismissal hearing in Melton v. General Motors on demand.
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