Lance Cooper
Lance Cooper (Rebecca Breyer)

A King & Spalding lawyer urged General Motors to settle a case over its faulty ignition switch last year, according to GM’s internal report.

Corporate Counsel, a Daily Report affiliate, wrote about King & Spalding partner Philip Holladay:

“In 2013, in one key case involving a fatal crash, it was discovered that a GM engineer who approved the original switch later changed the switch in newer models without notifying anyone else at GM.

“King & Spalding attorney Philip Holladay wrote an almost desperate letter saying, ‘This case needs to be settled . . . There is little doubt that a jury here will find that the ignition switch used on [a certain] 2005 Cobalt was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and that it did not meet GM’s own torque specifications.’

“Holladay’s April 2013 letter said the plaintiffs’ lawyer would cite the fact of ‘an investigation [of faulty switches] that has now been dragging on for almost two years as proof positive of GM’s conscience [sic] indifference and willful misconduct when it comes to the safety of its vehicles’ occupants.’

Holladay could not be reached Thursday to discuss the GM report’s account of the case. The report cited interviews with him.

The case name in the report is redacted, but it is likely that of Brooke Melton, a Georgia woman who died in a Chevrolet Cobalt crash that her parents blame on the faulty ignition switch. The Meltons’ case against GM, represented by King & Spalding, settled last year, but the plaintiffs recently asked a Cobb County judge to rescind the deal because they said GM hid information from them.

“It appears to be our case even though it’s redacted,” said Lance Cooper, the Meltons’ attorney. He said although the judge in the case had ordered documents such as this report disclosed to the Meltons, Thursday was the first day Cooper had seen it. This bolsters their case that they settled with incomplete information, he said.

The Meltons have filed a new suit alleging fraud, Cooper said. This time the Meltons have “no interest in settling. They were lied to. They want to get to the bottom of this.”

Cooper also issued a statement on the website for his cocounsel, Jere Beasley of Montgomery, Alabama. Cooper said: “Although [GM CEO] Mary Barra’s remarks provide additional information about the investigation, there is still much work to be done. Ms. Barra denies that there is any evidence that GM employees made a trade-off between safety and cost. Documents produced in the Melton case, as well as the testimony of the GM employees clearly show that GM chose not to fix the safety defects in these vehicles for cost reasons. This is why it is critical that the civil cases move forward so that the American public may learn the whole truth, not just the truth GM chooses to disclose.”

Beasley’s website provides a complete copy of the GM report.

The National Law Journal, a Daily Report affiliate, provided this report about the GM investigation.