Ken and Beth Melton, parents of a 29-year-old Georgia woman who died in a 2010 crash linked to an ignition switch defect, have re-filed their lawsuit against General Motors (GM). The reasons for this refiling are that GM fraudulently concealed critical evidence in the initial case and allowed one of its engineers to commit perjury by lying under oath during his deposition. GM also concealed documents and refused to produce them even after a court order. The Meltons have also asked in the new filing that the court sanction GM for its discovery abuses and spoliation of evidence.
The civil lawsuit, filed in the State Court of Cobb County, Ga., by Lance Cooper and our firm alleges that GM fraudulently denied that any employee authorized, or even knew of, any design change in Cobalt ignition switches. Specifically, Ray DeGiorgio, the lead design engineer for Cobalt ignition switches, repeatedly testified under oath that he did not authorize or know of any such changes. The company later affirmed his responses. GM’s subsequent disclosures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and to Congress, however, have revealed these assertions by DiGiorgio and the automaker to be totally false.
The Meltons would never have settled their case if they had known of the perjury and concealment of critical evidence by GM. Lance Cooper represented the Meltons during the initial case and he did an outstanding job. He is directly responsible for discovering the defect that GM had skillfully hidden from both the public and NHTSA. It is now apparent that GM’s plan was to settle the Meltons’ case and make them go away in a last-ditch effort to hide the Cobalt ignition switch design changes. Ken and Beth Melton fully understand the significance of their decision to refile their lawsuit against GM. They thought long and hard about this decision. Ultimately, it was a joint decision between them and Lance that GM should not be allowed to get away with what they did in the previous lawsuit.
Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old pediatric nurse, died March 10, 2010, when the ignition module of her 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position as she drove along Highway 92 in Paulding County, Ga. Her Cobalt skidded into another vehicle. Brooke died of her injuries in the crash. The incident was initially attributed to Brooke losing control of her car on a rainy night. An investigation showed that her vehicle was actually equipped with a defective ignition module that would travel out of the run position. These shifts occur while the vehicle is underway, creating an emergency situation that actually turns off the airbags at the same time it is cutting off the engine power, anti-lock brakes and power steering.
The Melton family sought Lance’s counsel after facing a legal claim from the driver in the other vehicle. During discovery, General Motors produced documents showing in 2001 that GM engineers discovered the ignition switch problem during the Cobalt’s production stage. But GM took the vehicle to market without remedying the problem. Instead, GM issued Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) to GM dealers. The fix – an ignition key cover that changed the design from a slot to a keyhole – did not solve the problem. But sadly, GM elected not to even use that solution. The automaker covered up a known safety defect that has killed hundreds of innocent victims.
Last September, the Meltons settled their claims against GM. Then in late January, GM reported the defect to NHTSA and announced a recall of 2005-2007 Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles. The Meltons requested that NHTSA open a recall Timeliness Query (TQ), charging that GM had known about the defect for years. They also contended that the recall did not cover all of the affected vehicles. GM eventually widened the recall, and NHTSA has opened a TQ.
The Melton case touched off a national controversy over both GM’s handling of the safety problem and NHTSA’s inadequate response. Both GM and NHTSA have been the subject of Congressional hearings. Both have helped form the basis for proposed amendments strengthening NHTSA’s enforcement powers and civil penalties in the Grow America Act, the new transportation bill before Congress.
On April 11, the Meltons asked GM to rescind the original settlement agreement, but the automaker refused. GM’s attorney, Robert Ellis, responded to the Meltons in this manner:
As an initial matter, General Motors LLC (“GM”) denies the assertion that GM fraudulently concealed relevant and critical facts in connection with the Melton matter. And GM denies it engaged in any improper behavior in that action.
If there was even any question about how bad GM’s conduct had been and its intentions, the response by its lawyers validated the decision by the Meltons. We are hopeful that this new lawsuit will uncover the names of all at GM who knew about the design change and also will find out why Brooke was never told. It will also find out exactly how many innocent victims, such as Brooke, have been killed. Our law firm was honored to be asked by Lance Cooper and the Melton family to assist them in the refiling and trial of the lawsuit against General Motors.
GM has betrayed the American people and must be held accountable for its wanton conduct in the cover-up for more than 10 years of a known safety defect. Ken and Beth Melton are very brave and courageous in their desire to make sure that the public learns how truly bad GM’s conduct was and how the automaker fraudulently dealt with the initial lawsuit they filed over the tragic death of their daughter. Lying under oath and committing perjury is about as low as it gets and GM must not be allowed to get away with this sort of conduct. The new lawsuit was filed on May 12 in Cobb County, Ga. A motion for sanctions against GM for committing perjury and other wrongful conduct was filed at the same time.
Our goal is for the Melton lawsuit to be a lasting memorial to Brooke Melton, a young nurse whose life – one with great promise – ended far too early because of the greed, arrogance and deceit of General Motors.
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