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One Family’s Lawsuit Exposed GM’s Dirty Secret

ignition-auto-accessory-positionWe’ve been keeping a close eye on General Motors’ ignition recall as it develops. The recall goes beyond the normal safety questions and customer inconvenience associated with faulty automobiles, because GM was aware of the flaw for years and could have prevented countless accidents and deaths. But those secrets didn’t come to light on their own—they were revealed because two grieving parents refused to stay quiet.

Ken and Beth Melton lost their daughter Brooke on March 10, 2010—her 29th birthday. Brooke was driving her 2005 Cobalt—one of the 1.6 million GM cars that’s now been recalled—when she lost control, hitting another car and careening off the road into a stream. She died in the hospital shortly after.

But aside from tragedy, the accident also had an eerie quality to it. Only four days earlier Brooke’s car had shut itself off while she was driving it. She had taken it into the dealership and got it back with the assurance that the problem was fixed.

Brooke had told her parents that when the Cobalt shut off, it was difficult to both steer and brake. She was right: power steering and power brakes both shut off with the ignition on the affected cars. So do the airbags.

The Meltons felt that GM had failed to fix the problem and that it was another loss of ignition that claimed their daughter’s life on her birthday. They hired a lawyer.

It was the right thing to do—not only for their daughter but, as it turned out, for millions of car owners. The Meltons’ lawyer had an engineering expert examine the wreckage of her car. Using data from the car’s computer (essentially its “black box”) the engineer found out that the key had gone from “on” to “accessory” just seconds before the crash.

That proved that Brooke Melton’s car was defective, but it wasn’t all the lawyer turned up. It was depositions in the Meltons’ lawsuit that first revealed the extent of the problem: not only that over a million other cars had the same defect, but that GM had known about it since 2001 and taken no serious steps to protect customers.

Today, we know that the defective GM ignitions are connected to 12 deaths and scores of accidents. Car owners are getting the repairs needed to make their cars safe, and families are getting justice for their loved ones from GM. But it wouldn’t have happened if two grieving parents hadn’t asked a lawyer to help them get to the bottom of it.

If you or someone you love is injured in a car accident, get a free legal evaluation from Steinger, Iscoe & Greene today.