On April 30, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) honored Ken and Beth Melton, the couple whose daughter’s death led to the recall of millions of General Motors (GM) vehicles, with the Courageous Pursuit of Justice Award. The Meltons’ investigation of their daughter’s car crash revealed an ignition switch defect that caused her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt to slip out of the “on” position, forcing her to run into another vehicle.
The GM ignition switch defect turned out to be a widespread problem that the automaker was aware of and hid for more than a decade. In 2013, the Meltons sued GM over the death of their daughter, settling for $5 million. The couple returned the money to sue the company again in 2014 on the basis of new information revealing a corporate cover-up. They settled again in March of 2015 for a confidential amount, valued at more than $6 million.
The GTLA’s award honors clients of members who have shown “exceptional bravery in pursing justice against all odds.” The award is also known as the “Nestlehutt Award,” named for Betty Nestlehutt, whose 2010 Georgia Supreme Court cased overturned Georgia’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. The Meltons were represented by Lance Cooper and his law firm in Marietta, Ga., and assisted by the Beasley Allen Law Firm in Montgomery, Ala.
Jere Beasley, Principal & Founder of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., stated, “The fact that Mr. and Mrs. Melton would be willing to take on a corporate giant and end up being directly responsible for alerting both the government and the public to a massive cover-up by General Motors is one of the most courageous things that I’ve experienced in my career as a lawyer. The Meltons truly are heroes for American consumers. I am extremely proud of them and am honored to have been asked to help represent them in a most worthy cause.”
Since the settlement, GM has established a victim compensation fund to compensate drivers, passengers and pedestrians killed or injured by one of their defective vehicles. As of February 2015, GM had received 4,180 claims for compensation. 64 deaths and 108 other injury claims were found to be eligible for compensation. The Meltons’ efforts resulted in not only the compensation fund, but the recall of millions of vehicles, $35 million in civil fines, Congressional hearings and multi-district litigation.