Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn J. Tanksley (Alison Church)
The showdown begins Saturday between General Motors and the Cobb County couple attempting to give back a $5 million settlement and sue again over an alleged decade-long corporate cover-up of the ignition switch defect they say killed their daughter.
Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley has scheduled a rare Saturday session at 10 a.m. Aug. 9 to hear arguments on GM’s motion to dismiss the case filed by Kenneth and Mary Elizabeth Melton on behalf of their daughter Brooke, who died March 10, 2010. The lawsuit alleges that an ignition switch defect caused her to lose control of her 2005 Cobalt as she drove along Highway 92 in Paulding County. Melton’s Cobalt skidded into another vehicle, then rolled down a bank. She died that evening.
This is the lawsuit that led to millions of recalls over the same issue, an alleged defect that causes the ignition switch to turn off while cars are running, leaving them out of control without power for the engine, brakes, steering and air bags.
The judge set the Saturday date because of scheduling conflicts among the lawyers, according to staff members. It’s the first court appearance since the Meltons defeated GM’s effort to move the case to federal court and consolidate it with hundreds of others that have followed it over the same defect allegations.
GM has hired new lawyers for the new Melton lawsuit: Robert Ingram and Jeffrey Daxe of Moore Ingram Johnson & Steele in Marietta. Ingram and Daxe have referred questions to GM spokesman Greg Martin, who has said the company can’t comment beyond its court pleadings. King & Spalding represented GM in the previous lawsuit. Two other law firms also are working on the case for GM: Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago and Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer in Dallas.
The plaintiffs’ attorney is Lance Cooper of the Cooper Firm in Marietta. In the new lawsuit, Cooper was joined by Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala, a personal injury firm with approximately 75 lawyers and 200 support staff.
The Meltons settled their lawsuit for a confidential amount last year. GM disclosed in an internal report that the company paid the Meltons $5 million—the maximum authority to settle for the in-house counsel who approved it. But the Meltons rescinded their settlement and filed a new case in May, saying they had learned the company provided false information in discovery and covered up a decade of employees knowing about the ignition defect without correcting it.
GM has refused the return of the settlement funds from the Meltons, Cooper said.
The Meltons also are suing Thornton Chevrolet, the dealership that worked on Brooke’s car and returned it to her the day before she died. The lawsuit says the dealer’s service department told Brooke the problem she’d reported with the ignition turning off had been repaired when it had not.