Attorney says legal action against GM will continue despite high-profile settlement

DETROIT – Despite the settlement of one high-profile case against General Motors, other cases are moving forward and company executives could still be questioned about their role in the deadly ignition switch recall, a plaintiffs’ attorney said Monday.

The parents of crash victim Brooke Melton, whose 2011 lawsuit in Georgia helped expose the ignition switch defect, reached a second settlement with GM last week. Attorney Lance Cooper wouldn’t say Monday how much GM paid Melton’s family, but said “you could assume” it was more than the $5 million the family won in its first settlement in 2013.

Melton’s family returned the $5 million and refiled its lawsuit last May after new documents indicated the company might have covered up evidence. That case was scheduled to go to trial early next year. But last Tuesday — the fifth anniversary of their daughter’s death — the Meltons settled with GM.

“They were emotionally exhausted,” Cooper said.

Cooper praised Melton’s family, saying their lawsuits helped attorneys get access to millions of documents from GM. Planned depositions of GM executives, including the 15 people the company let go as a result of an internal investigation, will proceed as part of other lawsuits against the company in state and federal courts, he said.

A GM spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on settlements or pending litigation.

Melton, a 29-year-old pediatric nurse, is one of at least 67 people killed in crashes caused by defective ignition switches whose survivors will get compensation from the company. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by GM to compensate victims and reached the settlement with the Meltons, updated the total Monday. It was up from 64 last week.

An additional 113 injured people also are eligible for compensation.

The fund received 4,342 claims by the Jan. 31 deadline. Of those, 1,492 are under review and 820 were deemed ineligible. Feinberg says the rest lacked documentation or were deficient.

GM knew about problem switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars for more than a decade but recalled them only last year. They can slip out of the “on” position, which cuts off the engine, knocks out power steering and turns off air bags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined GM $35 million for failing to disclose the problem, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the case for possible criminal charges. GM’s internal investigation blamed the debacle on engineering ignorance and bureaucratic dithering, not a deliberate coverup.