The death of Brooke Melton in 2010 was part of what prompted GM to recall 2.59 million small cars for a faulty ignition switch earlier this year. Melton’s parents filed a lawsuit against GM and settled on the matter last year. However, when it was discovered GM hesitated to recall the cars when it knew about the problem for over 10 years, Melton’s parents filed a new complaint, saying GM had knowingly concealed defects and withheld evidence during the previous trial.
GM argued the suit should not be revived because it had already been settled and the new case means anybody could redo their settlement now, GM lawyer Robert Ingram said during the hearing. Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley said she was “denying the motion to dismiss,” because the new case focuses on GM’s fraud allegations, not on the accident itself.
The Meltons offered to return the money from the first settlement, the amount of which was never disclosed, but GM declined the offer. GM now says offering the money back didn’t reverse the settlement, as the court had already entered a final judgement, dismissing the case.
“A plaintiff who is dissatisfied with a prior settlement cannot simply offer to tender back the consideration received in the settlement and then unilaterally institute a new lawsuit,” GM said in a statement.
“Melton II asserts the same causes of action as Melton I,” Ingram said. “The judgment in Melton I has not been reversed,” so a new suit can’t be filed.
Tanksley said during the hearing that a reversal of the prior ruling is not necessary in this case, as the ruling was based on a private settlement and not a court judgment. The ruling seems like a minor loss for GM amidst its ongoing ignition switch crisis, but the decision may give solid ground to other accident victims looking to reopen their settled ignition switch cases now that more information about the matter has surfaced.