March 7, 2014 — General Motors (GM) is in damage control after testimony in Melton v. General Motors et. al. showed that the automaker know about a defective ignition switch in 2004, before it began selling the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.
GM has already settled the Melton case, brought by the estate of Brooke Melton. In 2010, on her 29th birthday, Melton was driving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt on a rainy night in Paulding County, Georgia. She was wearing her seatbelt and going 58-mph on a two-lane state route 92. When the ignition failed, she lost control and was struck by another vehicle, ending up in a creek.
Her family alleges that the accident was caused by a defective ignition switch. According to the car’s “Black Box,” the ignition was in “accessory” mode instead of “run” when the accident occurred.
Before the accident, GM created a snap-on key cover to fix the problem and sent dealerships a Service Bulletin to install the part. Only a few hundred key covers were installed, and Melton’s car was not one of them.
In a deposition obtained by USA Today, the key covers were an “improvement, it was not a fix to the issue,” according to Gary Altman, program engineering manager for Cobalt during its development.
Just weeks ago, GM recalled 1.4 million Cobalts and other vehicles with a faulty ignition — 10 years after the defect was first discovered. If the driver has a heavy keychain or drives over rough roads, the ignition can switch to the “accessory” or “off” position, effectively shutting down the engine, electrical components, and safety features — including brakes, steering, and airbags.
GM has linked the defect to at least 31 frontal crashes in which airbags failed to deploy, which resulted in 13 deaths. However, the company will not confirm whether Melton was one 13 people known to have died as a result of the Cobalt ignition problem.