Despite an attempt by General Motors (GM) to move the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Melton family to the federal court system, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. ruled that the case should be handled in a Georgia state court. That happening made it a very bad day for GM. By trying to move the Melton lawsuit to federal court, the automaker was attempting to avoid having to defend the case in Cobb County, Ga. GM didn’t want to have key company lawyers, engineers and officers put up for depositions and be questioned under oath. They also had to know that a jury, after hearing the damning evidence against GM, including its lengthy cover-up of a known safety hazard, would punish GM severely. The awarding of punitive damages is something the automaker definitely wants to avoid.
As we have previously written, Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old nurse, was killed in a car crash near Atlanta in 2010 while driving her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. The ignition switch in her car failed and caused her death. We will prove that the defective switch caused the Cobalt to lose power, stall and crash. Brooke’s parents sued GM after their daughter’s crash was linked to the defective ignition switch. They settled with GM last year for $5 million. But then in February the automaker finally admitted the existence of a defect it had known about for 11 years. GM, as a direct result of the Melton lawsuit, issued a massive recall. The Meltons asked that their settlement be rescinded and they refiled the lawsuit against GM. Brooke’s parents, Ken and Beth Melton, wanted to keep the case in Cobb County, Ga., where it belonged. As expected, Judge Thrash rejected GM’s claim that the Meltons had fraudulently joined the dealer, and sent the case back to state court.
GM initially recalled about 780,000 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles on Feb. 13. Twelve days later, the automaker expanded the recall to include an additional 590,000 model-year 2003-07 Saturn Ion, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky vehicles. At that juncture the recalls encompassed 2.6 million vehicles, and GM knew – long before the recalls – that at least 13 deaths related to the defect had occurred. GM is now the subject of a federal investigation, facing allegations of a cover-up, and was issued a $35 million civil fine from federal regulators regarding the company’s massive delays in reporting safety problems.
Now that the Melton case will remain in state court, our firm, along with Lance Cooper’s firm, will push the case, which has been described in the media as the “linchpin” of the GM ignition switch litigation, through the discovery phase and to trial. Lance is the Georgia lawyer who uncovered the defective ignition switch problems. Without his good work, I am convinced GM would never have revealed the defect to either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or their customers.
The key to the overall General Motors litigation picture now is taking depositions under oath of key people. The Melton case will be the focal point of the ignition switch litigation. Without any doubt, the case will be watched closely by the media, the public and certainly by other automakers.
Ken and Beth Melton were willing to return the $5 million they received last year from GM, but the automaker refused to take it back. Now we will prove that GM fraudulently concealed important evidence from Lance and the Meltons and, as this case progresses, there won’t be any doubt about that. The Melton case truly is the linchpin of the entire litigation and I can assure all of our readers that GM knows it!