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MARIETTA, Ga. — (Mealey’s) An attorney for the parents of a woman who died in an auto accident linked to an ignition-switch defect said in a telephone press conference March 16 that a confidential settlement reached with General Motors LLC (GM) on March 13 could lead to a global settlement of the litigation against the automaker (Kenneth D. Melton, et al. v. General Motors LLC, No. 14-A-1197-4, Ga. State, Cobb Co.).
Jere Beasley of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala., one of the attorneys representing Kenneth and Mary Beth Melton, suggested that the result in the case, including the production of documents that he said reveal “a massive cover-up,” could prompt GM to seek a settlement. “Once it gets to a trial setting, GM cannot afford to let the public know how bad they have been,” Beasley said.
Lance Cooper of the Cooper Firm in Marietta, also representing the Meltons, said discovery in the case, including privileged documents produced under an agreement with GM, will be available to attorneys with cases in the multidistrict litigation currently pending before U.S. Judge Jesse M. Furman of the Southern District of New York (In re: General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation, No. 14-md-02543-JMF, S.D. N.Y.). The documents will also be used in depositions with GM officials in the coming months.
The Meltons’ daughter, Jennifer, was killed in 2010 when she lost control of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt after the key in the car’s ignition shifted from the “run” position. The case is largely credited with triggering investigations that led to revelations about the scope of the ignition-switch defect.
Cooper said that the settlement funds will be added to an earlier settlement — originally held confidential, but later revealed to total $5 million — between GM and the Meltons.
Cooper said the Meltons had originally opted not to file a claim with the GM Ignition Compensation Claims Resolution Facility; however, they eventually did so in January upon the urging of Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the facility. The settlement will be paid out by the facility, which is funded by GM. The Meltons also reached a separate settlement with Thornton Chevrolet, the dealer that sold the car.
The Meltons filed suit in June 2011 in the Cobb County State Court against GM and Thornton. At trial, they raised the issue of whether changes had been made in the ignition switch in 2006; however, GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of any changes. The Meltons eventually settled with GM in August 2013, executing a confidential agreement on Sept. 9. Subsequently, a March 2014 congressional investigation revealed documents showing that DeGiorgio had signed off on the 2006 switch change.
The Meltons approached GM in April 2014 to rescind the settlement; GM declined. The Meltons then filed a second action on May 12, again asserting wrongful death, strict liability, negligence and fraudulent concealment. GM moved to dismiss the second suit; however, Judge Kathryn Tanksley denied the motion, finding the allegations of fraud contained in the new complaint sufficient to create an issue of fact for presentation to a jury.
GM is represented by Richard D. Ingram and Jeffrey A. Daxe of Moore Ingram Johnson & Steele in Marietta.
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