A 2005 Chevy Cobalt (Ramphex via Wikimedia Commons)
The parents of a woman whose 2011 death prompted General Motors Co.’s recall of 2.6 million vehicles have refiled their lawsuit, alleging that the automaker knew about an ignition system defect for a decade—even secretly redesigned the switch—but didn’t tell the public.
Ken and Beth Melton, who settled their case against GM in September on behalf of their daughter, Brooke Melton, 29, moved to rescind their settlement in light of new documents submitted by GM in the past few months. They also seek sanctions against GM, alleging the automaker concealed evidence and that one of its lead engineers lied under oath.
“We believe this is the best opportunity to discovery the whole truth of GM’s decision to secretly redesign the switch,” Lance Cooper, an attorney for the Meltons, told reporters on Monday. “Over the last few months, we’ve learned a lot that we didn’t know about in the underlying case.”
GM spokesman Greg Martin declined to comment beyond referencing a letter sent to the Meltons by the company’s attorney, Robert Ellis, a partner at Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis. “As an initial matter, General Motors LLC … denies the assertion that GM fraudulently concealed relevant and critical facts in connection with the Melton matter,” it read. “And GM denies it engaged in any improper behavior in that action.”
GM’s recalls are designed to fix defects that, by shutting off engines and preventing air bags from deploying, have been linked to 13 deaths.
The Meltons allege that the ignition key of their daughter’s 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position, shutting off the engine, as she drove down a Georgia highway. She lost control over her vehicle, which skidded into another car, and died from injuries sustained in the crash.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday in Cobb County, Ga., State Court, Ray DeGiorgio, the chief engineer of the Cobalt ignition switches, testified on April 29, 2013, that he didn’t know about any changes made to the Cobalt’s ignition switch. But documents submitted earlier this year to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and to congressional officials showed that he approved such changes in 2006, the suit says.
DeGiorgio perjured himself and GM concealed the truth about the ignition-switch change, according to the Meltons, who also filed a motion for sanctions, including an order prohibiting GM from challenging their rescission of the settlement.
“Under Georgia law, the court has the authority to sanction a defendant or any party who violates the court order or presents false testimony,” said Cooper, founding partner of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., working with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles of Montgomery, Ala., in the case.
The suit also names Thornton Chevrolet Inc., the dealership that maintained Melton’s car before the accident. Thornton Chevrolet, which was named in the original lawsuit, faced a June 9 trial, but Cooper told reporters that the Meltons had dismissed that case on Friday.
Meanwhile, GM has moved to bar the consumer class actions that comprise most of the 60 lawsuits filed over ignition-switch defects. Plaintiffs lawyers have objected. During a May 2 hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber in the Southern District of New York ordered the parties to submit a proposed schedule to brief the issue.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.