General Motors Headquarters in Detorit, MI.
General Motors Headquarters in Detorit, MI. (Photo: Ritcheypro via Wikimedia Commons.)

Some of the more than $6 million General Motors paid a Cobb County couple to settle the lawsuit that identified a deadly ignition switch defect will be spent for safety research for cars.

Ken and Beth Melton have become sponsors of a nonprofit organization that compiles data on automobile safety complaints nationwide. The current edition of the Safety Institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List discloses their investment and says it is being made in memory of their daughter, Brooke Melton.

She was a 29-year-old nurse who died in 2010 after her 2005 Chevy Cobalt crashed. Police initially said she lost control because of wet roads. But her parents hired Lance Cooper of the Cooper Firm in Marietta, whose investigation found the faulty ignition switch that turned off while the car was running full speed on the highway, causing a loss of power steering and brakes and shutting off the air bags. The same defect was found in other cases involving other GM cars. Ultimately, the Meltons’ case led to 30 million recalls.

They settled with GM in March for a confidential amount, but revelations by both sides indicated the payment was at least $6 million.

The Vehicle Safety Watch List website reveals the Meltons’ sponsorship and says they plan to provide “ongoing support” to its research “in hope of preventing future tragedies.” An article notes that documents and evidence developed in the Melton case found that GM knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001.

The Safety Institute executive director, Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, confirmed the Meltons’ sponsorship but declined to disclose the amount of the investment.

The Safety Institute is a nonprofit affiliated with Rehoboth, Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies, founded by auto safety analyst and advocate Sean Kane. Kane started his research career with Ralph Nader’s Center for Auto Safety in 1991. Kane is president of both groups. He has also worked with the Meltons’ lawyer, Cooper, on research for other cases.

The watch list monitors vehicle defect trends and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Early Warning System complaints as well as other recall and enforcement activities. Its stated intention is to recognize early signs of emerging, potential problems and to address issues that are already known.

The Meltons’ premiere issue of the watch list identifies 15 potential defects, starting with a steering issue in the Ford Focus.