Last week, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman ruled on General Motors’ (GM) attempt to halt discovery efforts, which would have included the Melton v. General Motors case, as well as other personal injury claims related to the company’s faulty ignition switch recalls. Judge Furman found that “such discovery should proceed now,” based on the very reasons GM lawyers said they should be stopped. Judge Furman states in his order that after discussions with Judges presiding over several of the personal injury cases, the decision to move forward with discovery in those cases would indeed help, not hinder, the multidistrict litigation (MDL) process.
On the same day, Judge Kathryn Tanksley held a status conference in the Melton case. Both sides were told that discovery would proceed on schedule. In the cause, Judge Tanksley also gave guidance on what she expected on a protective order.
In July, Judge Tanksley denied GM’s motion to dismiss the wrongful death and fraud lawsuit filed against GM by the parents of Brooke Melton in a Georgia state court. GM was ordered to produce all documents related to the ignition switch defect by late September. Discovery in the Melton case will benefit any person bringing a claim against GM based on the faulty ignition switches. We are now in a position to go forward with paper discovery, followed by depositions of key GM officers, lawyers and employees in the Melton case.
The Melton lawsuit alleges GM committed fraud when it negotiated a settlement agreement with the Melton family late last year. Ken and Beth Melton sued GM after the death of their daughter, 29-year-old Brooke Melton, in a 2010 crash of her Chevy Cobalt linked to the ignition switch defect. After learning that GM knew about the defective ignition switch and covered up the defect for more than 10 years, the Meltons asked that their settlement agreement be rescinded and refiled a wrongful death and fraud lawsuit against the automaker. GM is now supplying documents in the Melton case and discovery is now proceeding.
“After Judge Furman and Judge Tanksley let it be known that discovery would go forward in each court we are now in a position to find out exactly who all at GM were involved in the massive cover up of a known safety problem that has killed or injured hundreds of innocent victims,” said Jere Beasley, Principal & Founder of Beasley Allen. “I have felt all along that the Melton case will be extremely helpful to individuals who have death and personal injury cases that are in the MDL. Depositions will be going forward after GM completes its response to our discovery requests.
“I have also been convinced all along that GM cannot afford to allow certain folks connected to the ignition switch defect to be questioned under oath. Hopefully, the delaying tactics will be abandoned by GM now that the lay of the land is laid out for all parties by the judges,” Beasley says. “We have already seen from our initial review of documents received from GM in the Melton case that more folks were involved in the cover up than the sole design engineer who has been thrown under the bus by GM.”
GM has admitted the ignition switch defect is the cause of deaths, but the automaker refused to tell the truth about the death totals that it knew about and withheld from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Some experts say more than 300 deaths were caused by the defective switches. Investigations have revealed GM knew about the ignition switch defect for 11 years before disclosing it to safety regulators and the public. As a result, hundreds of people have been killed and many more seriously injured. The victims never knew of the link between their defective GM vehicles and their crashes.
The ignition switch in these vehicles may move from the “run” position to the “off” or “accessory” position, disabling power steering and brakes during operation, also possibly deactivating the airbags. GM initially recalled about 780,000 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles on Feb. 13. Twelve days later, it expanded the recall to include an additional 590,000 model-year 2003-07 Saturn Ion, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky vehicles. That initial recall now encompasses 2.6 million vehicles, and GM admits to 13 deaths related to the defect. In June, GM recalled an additional 3.4 million midsize and large cars for the same ignition switch defect. In July, GM recalled 17 older model (1997-2005) vehicles. GM attributes seven crashes, three deaths and eight injuries to this latest group of recalled vehicles, which it says allows “inadvertent ignition key rotation.” The total number of all safety-related recalls now exceeds 29 million.