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GM Settles with Family of Dead Ignition-Switch Victim

March 16, 2015
GM ended up recalling 2.6 million cars last year to address the problem, which can cause the ignition to unintentionally switch out of the "on" position, disabling airbags and other functions.

NEW YORK – General Motors (IW 500/5) has settled litigation with the family of a woman whose death helped spur the massive ignition-defect recall, representatives of GM and the family said Friday.

Neither GM nor lawyers for the family of Brooke Melton disclosed terms of the agreement, which ended a wrongful death lawsuit against the biggest U.S. automaker.

Melton, who lived in the southern state of Georgia, died at age 29 in March 2010 when her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt careened into another car after the engine suddenly shut off. 

Her parents agreed to settle an initial suit against GM in September 2013 for $5 million, but later withdrew their agreement after concluding the automaker knew much more about the defect than it had admitted.

The Meltons refiled the claims against GM in May 2014, alleging the automaker knowingly put a defective vehicle on the highway and that it had committed fraud in the original lawsuit and settlement.

The Melton case helped spur congressional and criminal investigations into GM and propelled a wave of other injury lawsuits. GM knew of the ignition problem for more than a decade before it began recalling cars in February 2014.

GM ended up recalling 2.6 million cars last year to address the problem, which can cause the ignition to unintentionally switch out of the "on" position, disabling airbags and other functions.

"One of the most important issues for the Meltons was accountability," said Lance Cooper, an attorney at The Cooper Firm in Georgia who represented the family. 

"This is a company that concealed this defect for years," Cooper said. "They wanted to hold GM accountable, and that is what refiling the lawsuit did." 

As of March 6, the independent GM compensation fund program determined that 64 fatalities were caused by the ignition-switch defect and that there were another 11 confirmed cases of crippling injuries, such as brain damage or double amputation.

The fund, administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, was still reviewing 156 death claims and another 105 cases of serious injuries. The deadline for filing compensation claims was January 31.

Feinberg took "an active role" in working with the Meltons' attorneys to settle the case, Cooper's firm said in a statement.

GM shares were down 1.4% at $37.89 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange, in an overall lower market.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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