GM settles high-profile ignition-switch case with Georgia family

Fri Mar 13, 2015 1:11pm EDT
 
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By Joseph White

DETROIT (Reuters) - The family of a woman who died in a crash later blamed on a faulty General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote) ignition switch has settled a civil lawsuit against the automaker, ending litigation that helped bring to light the company’s decade-long delay in recalling millions of defective vehicles.

Lawyers for the parents of Brooke Melton disclosed the settlement on Friday, but did not reveal details of the agreement. GM declined to comment on Friday.

The Melton family was represented by Lance Cooper of the Cooper Firm of Marietta, Georgia, and the Beasley Allen firm of Montgomery, Alabama.

The Melton family settled a civil action against GM for $5 million in September 2013. But last year, the family filed a second lawsuit in Georgia state court, alleging that GM knew more about the defect linked to Brooke Melton’s death than it had disclosed in the prior case, and had committed fraud in the original proceedings.

“One of the most important issues for the Meltons was accountability," lawyer Lance Cooper said in a statement Friday.

Brooke Melton, 29, died in a March 2010 accident in Paulding County, Georgia, when the ignition switch of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt slipped out of the "on" position, and she ran into another vehicle. During his investigation of the case, Cooper discovered that GM had changed the design of the ignition switch used in Cobalts after complaints that it could be inadvertently bumped out of the "run" position into an "accessory" or "off" position.

GM lawyers agreed to settle the original case in September 2013 for $5 million soon after Cooper presented his findings to GM lawyers. It was not until early 2014 that GM ordered the first recalls of 2003-2011 compact cars equipped with defective switches, and disclosed that company officials had known for years of the problems.

The disclosures touched off a furor that led to a series of congressional hearings, and probes by federal highway safety regulators and the U.S. Department of Justice. GM paid $35 million in civil fines in connection with the delayed recalls, and still faces a federal criminal probe. As of March 6, Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer running a compensation fund GM established last year, has tied 64 deaths and 108 injuries to accidents involving cars equipped with the defective switches.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

 
The General Motors world headquarters is seen in downtown Detroit, Michigan May 31, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook