Silence Is Golden, Except When It’s Criminal

Silence Is Golden, Except When It’s Criminal

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Settlement - The Cooper Firm

Silence Is Golden, Except When It’s Criminal

Before even the early 1990s, Georgia lawyers pressed for Sunshine Law to prevent corporations from using settlement orders or confidentiality orders to hide defects and public hazards. Those were the so-called Sunshine In Litigation Acts. Other states passed such laws. Even Texas, not noted for its progressive legal posture, passed one. Georgia declined to do so, however.

In one kind of response, plaintiff’s lawyers in defect cases fought for “sharing protective orders,” to help prevent corporations from hiding safety defects. We met with some success, but it seems more recently that courts have worried more about the work they might have to do to enforce orders, and not enough about revelation and public safety.  As a result, we have seen more courts decline to do now what so many courts did before, namely, enter sharing protective orders.

Hopefully, recent action by NHTSA, traceable directly to the work done in our case, Melton v. GM, might help change things and brighten the landscape. More specifically, NHTSA has issued a call for consumers and experts to help it develop an Enforcement Guidance Bulletin to prevent settlement agreements, confidentiality orders, and or other confidentiality provisions from hiding defects. The Guidance would help prohibit car makers from using such orders to avoid transmitting defect and safety information to NHTSA. It would help judges and litigants insert language into agreements and orders that would allow information sharing with NHTSA, if not other litigants with similar defects. We think the latter orders are still a key fight, but are happy to see NHTSA acting—and finally using plaintiff’s lawyers as the natural safety allies that they are.

The Guidance will take submissions through October 19, 2015, from the public, counsel, and other interested parties here. Through the Guidance, NHTSA recommends that “litigants include a specific provision in any protective order or settlement agreement that provides for disclosure of relevant motor vehicle safety information to NHTSA, regardless of any other restrictions on the disclosure or dissemination of such information.”

Of help to counsel is the section in the Guidance that sets out many existing legal decisions and arguments for disclosure, and information sharing.   And for orders that do not conceal defects, as they once did for the IUD and breast implant defects. As one court noted,

An agreement is against public policy if it is injurious to the interests of the public, contravenes some established interest of society, violates some public statute, is against good morals, tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety, or is at war with the interests of society or is in conflict with the morals of the time.

E & B Mktg. Enterprises, Inc. v. Ryan, 568 NE.2d 339, 209 Ill. App. 3d 626 (1st Dist. 1991).

Press Release: Melton Case Settles After Exposing GM Cover-up

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PRESS RELEASE - The Cooper Firm Personal Injury Lawyer

News Release

 Melton Case Settles After Exposing GM Cover-up

WHAT: News conference call to address the Melton v. GM case
WHO: Lance Cooper, The Cooper FirmBeasley Allen Founding Shareholder Jere L. Beasley
WHEN: Monday, March 16, 2015 10:00 a.m. CST / 11:00 a.m. EST
WHERE: Ready Access Number: 866-365-44067-Diget Access Code: 4275588
WHY: The Cooper Firm and Beasley Allen Law Firm will be addressing a development in the Melton v. General Motors lawsuit.

March 13, 2015

Lead GM defective ignition switch case resolved with confidential settlement after accomplishing goals of bringing cover-up to light and holding GM accountable for consumer safety

MARIETTA, GEORGIA. (March 13, 2015)  – Lawyers representing Ken and Beth Melton, whose claims against General Motors for the death of their daughter exposed a 10-year cover-up of the ignition switch defect, announced that a second lawsuit has been resolved with a confidential settlement.

Brooke Melton, 29, died in a March 2010 crash when the ignition switch in her 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position as she was driving, causing her car to skid into another vehicle. The initial resolution of her case touched off a national controversy over GM’s deception, resulting in $35 million in civil fines, millions of vehicles recalled, Congressional hearings over GM’s failures and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) lackluster response, and a multi-district litigation (MDL). Among the revelations: GM lied under oath in the original Melton case, prompting her parents to pursue GM again for fraud.

Ken and Beth Melton are hoping that Brooke’s death serves as a catalyst to motivate General Motors and other major automakers to address deadly defects promptly, instead of ignoring them, and prevents other needless tragedies. Lance Cooper and his firm in Marietta, Ga., and the Beasley Allen firm in Montgomery, Ala., represented the Meltons.

“One of the most important issues for the Meltons was accountability. This is a company that concealed this defect for years. They wanted to hold GM accountable, and that is what refiling the lawsuit did,” Cooper said. “They are grieving parents who simply wanted the truth and for no one else to suffer a similar loss.”

The 2010 crash was initially attributed to Brooke losing control of her car on a rainy night. But an investigation revealed the vehicle was equipped with a faulty ignition switch that allowed the key to turn out of the “run” to the “accessory” or “off” position, cutting power steering, anti-lock braking, lights, and disabling the air bags. After 18 months of discovery and a court order, GM finally produced documents showing that GM engineers first noted the ignition switch problem during the Cobalt’s production stage. GM took the defective vehicles to market anyway, and began to rack up complaints almost immediately. GM attempted to “fix” the problem with an October 2005 Technical Service Bulletin, but failed. For the next nine years, dozens of individuals died and hundreds of others were injured by the defective switches.

In September 2013, the Meltons agreed to settle their case with GM for $5 million. At the time, GM admitted knowledge of the defect, but claimed ignorance on the matter of who changed the defective ignition switch design or authorized that change. Five months later, GM announced a recall for a small subset of the vehicles affected by the defect, but told NHTSA nothing about its long history. On Feb. 19, 2014, the Meltons alerted NHTSA to GM’s knowledge of the faulty switch, and requested that the agency open an investigation called a Timeliness Query to determine if GM met its legal obligation to recall a vehicle within five business days of discovering a defect and if the company had failed to recall all of the affected vehicles.

“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,” Jere Beasley, Principal & Founder of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., said. “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.”

By April 2014, the Meltons learned that GM knew much more about the defect than it attested to in 2013, and asked the company to rescind the original settlement. The couple offered to return the money, and filed a second lawsuit in State Court of Cobb, County, Ga., charging GM with putting a known defective vehicle on the highway and with fraud in the original lawsuit and settlement.

GM established a victim compensation fund to evaluate claims to determine eligibility and compensation amounts for drivers, passengers and pedestrians killed or injured by one of the defective GM vehicles. As of Feb. 1, GM had received a total of 4,180 claims for compensation, according to Kenneth Feinberg, the fund administrator. To date, Mr. Feinberg has determined that 64 deaths and 108 other injury claims are eligible for compensation.  But for the Meltons’ efforts, most of these injured drivers and passengers would not have received any compensation, much less fair and appropriate compensation from GM.  Mr. Feinberg took an active role in working with the Meltons’ attorneys to settle the claims arising out of the second lawsuit.

The Melton lawsuit also caused the GM ignition switch litigation to move forward in the MDL. In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, who is overseeing the MDL, ruled against GM’s efforts to halt discovery efforts, noting coordinated discovery in the MDL and the Melton case should proceed immediately. The first MDL case is scheduled for trial in January 2016 due in large part to the Meltons’ decision to proceed with their second lawsuit.

About The Cooper Firm

Lance Cooper founded The Cooper Firm in 2006. With experience in substantial personal injury and wrongful death cases, he has represented plaintiffs in numerous civil jury trials and has successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases and gained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients. For more information, visit www.thecooperfirm.com.

 About Beasley Allen Law Firm

Headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., Beasley Allen is comprised of more than 70 attorneys and 200 support staff. Beasley Allen is a national leader in civil litigation, with verdicts and settlements in excess of $22 billion. For more information about our firm, please visit our website at www.beasleyallen.com.

 

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Media Contacts: 

The Cooper Firm:

Victoria Schneider
(770) 427-5588
(770) 675-6443 direct
victoria@thecooperfirm.com

Beasley Allen:

Helen Taylor
(334) 495-1169
(334) 221-2311 cell
(800) 898-2034 x169
helen.taylor@beasleyallen.com

GM loses bid to dismiss Melton GM lawsuit in Georgia state court

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GM Recall Lawyer - The Cooper Firm

GM loses bid to dismiss Melton GM lawsuit in Georgia state court

On Saturday, Judge Kathryn Tanksley denied GM’s motion to dismiss the wrongful death and fraud lawsuit filed against General Motors (GM) by the Melton family in Georgia state court. The lawsuit, which has been described by the media as the “linchpin” of the GM litigation, alleges GM committed fraud when it negotiated a settlement agreement with the Melton family late last year.

In February, GM finally began recalling vehicles affected by the ignition switch defect, which the automaker had covered up for more than 10 years. The defect causes power steering, brakes and airbags to be deactivated. The Melton case has been given credit for bringing about the massive recalls and bringing GM’s wrongful conduct to the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Congress.

After learning that GM did, in fact, know about an ignition switch defect, Ken and Beth Melton, parents of 29-year-old Brooke Melton, who was killed in the 2010 crash of her Chevy Cobalt linked to the ignition switch defect, asked that their settlement be rescinded. They refiled the current lawsuit on behalf of their daughter on May 12. Their goal in this lawsuit is to uncover what GM knew about the defect and about the hundreds of deaths and injuries that were caused by it.

GM unsuccessfully attempted to move the Melton case to federal court. However, in July, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr., ruled the case should be handled in a Georgia state court. Saturday’s ruling will allow the lawyers for the Meltons to proceed with extensive and badly needed discovery. GM is to produce all of the documents relating to the ignition switch defect by late September.

The Meltons are represented by Lance Cooper of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., who initially represented them and whose work on the case uncovered the ignition switch defect; and Jere Beasley of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles, P.C., in Montgomery, Ala.

The case is Melton et al. v. General Motors LLC et al., case number 14A1197-4, in the Georgia Court of Cobb County.

Sources:
 
Law 360
Daily Report
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
CNN Money
New York Times

 

Lance Cooper Finalist for Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2014

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Lance Cooper Finalist for Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2014

Every year, the Public Justice Foundation presents the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to the trial attorney or legal team who has made the greatest contribution to the public interest in the past year.

Lance Cooper was nominated for Melton v. General Motors.

Lance Cooper of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, GA. was the sole plaintiff’s attorney in the case. After noticing serious problems with her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, including the engine shutting off while she drove, Brooke Melton took her vehicle to her local dealership. A day after she picked it up from the dealership, her car lost power suddenly, veered into oncoming traffic, was struck by another vehicle, and rolled into a creek. Melton was killed in the accident. At the request of Melton’s parents, Lance cooper launched an investigation into her death. When Cooper initially filed Melton v. General Motors against GM and the dealership that services Brooke’s vehicle, he believed the accident was caused by a defect related to a power-steering recall issued by GM one week before the accident. But Cooper retained experts who determined that the real culprit in the fatal accident was a defective ignition switch that caused the car to turn off suddenly while Melton was driving. Cooper then showed that GM has known about the deadly ignition defect before the accident, exposing a corporate cover-up and federal regulatory lapse that led to Gm recalling over 2.5 million car, a Congressional investigation, and large (but confidential) settlement to compensate the Melton family on September 21, 2013.

Press Release – GM fine for failure to timely disclose ignition switch defect only a first step

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PRESS RELEASE - The Cooper Firm Personal Injury Lawyer

News Release

GM fine for failure to timely disclose ignition switch defect only a first step

May 16, 2014

Lawyers representing victims permanently injured or killed in wrecks related to General Motors faulty ignition switch say federal fine doesn’t begin to compensate for delays, cover-up related to recalls

TCF_logoplaceholderMONTGOMERY, ALA. (May 16, 2014) – Jere L. Beasley, founding shareholder of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., and Lance Cooper, trial lawyer and founding partner of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., say today’s announcement by the government that General Motors (GM) will pay a fine of $35 million for its mishandling of a recall related to a defective ignition switch is only a tiny first step on the road to justice for victims. The announcement was made at 11:15 E.T. by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Acting Administrator David Friedman.

“There is much more to learn about GM’s massive cover up,” Beasley says. “This settlement may be a little premature. It will take the civil justice system to make sure that all the victims are compensated fully. The criminal investigation of GM’s wrongdoing must continue and those responsible for committing the intentional wrongs must be held accountable. It’s time for individuals to face jail time for intentional massive cover-ups of known safety defects.”

“It comes as no surprise that GM agreed to the terms of Consent Order with NHTSA, including civil penalty,” Cooper adds. “Although it won’t, the entire amount GM eventually pays as the penalty should go to the Office of Defects Investigation to enhance NHTSA’s ability to investigate potential defects. Ultimately, the only way that GM will ever be held fully accountable will be for the civil justice system to shine a light on GM’s reprehensible conduct. The federal government cannot replace the civil justice system as a means of getting at the whole truth. We look forward to representing our clients who were harmed by the safety related defects in GM vehicles. We will leave no stone unturned in getting answers to all of their questions and ultimately obtaining a full measure of justice for them.”

The $35 million penalty is the maximum penalty that could be levied against the automaker under the law, and it is the highest civil penalty ever paid to NHTSA stemming from an investigation into a recall, Secretary Foxx said. He also said he will send the Grow America Act to Capitol Hill asking that the penalty for these types of violations be raised from $35 million to $300 million. “What we will never accept is a person or company that knows danger exists and says nothing. Literally silence can kill,” Foxx said. “In the meantime, their customers were driving cars with a dangerous safety defect. Crashes happened and people died.”

Foxx said the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) role in the civil investigation was concluded, from a timeliness standpoint, and he could not comment on what consideration the Department of Justice (DOJ) might give to bringing a criminal investigation in the case. However, he said the DOT would comply with any information the DOJ might require in such an investigation.

Automakers are required by law to alert the NHTSA of safety concerns or product defects they find within five days. Friedman said the investigation into when GM knew about the ignition switch defect and when they reported it was “deeply disturbing,” and included every level of GM staff from engineers to investigators, attorneys and executives. The fact that GM waited so long to recall the affected vehicles illustrates that “Something was very wrong with the company’s values,” Friedman said.

GM recalled about 780,000 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles on Feb. 13 for an ignition switch defect that can allow the key to move from the “run” to the “accessory” or “off” position during vehicle operation. This disables power steering, brakes, airbags and other safety systems. Twelve days later, it expanded the recall to include an additional 590,000 model-year 2003-07 Saturn Ion, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Solstice, and Saturn Sky vehicles. It was later expanded again to include model-year 2006-2011 Chevy HHRs. The recall now encompasses 2.6 million vehicles.

Court documents and other evidence reveal that GM knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. However, GM rejected several design changes and solutions that were recommended by its own engineers on numerous occasions because of the cost and the time it would take to make the changes. In particular, during the previous lawsuit, GM consistently denied that any employee authorized, or even knew of, any design change in Cobalt ignition switches.  Ray DeGiorgio, the lead design engineer for Cobalt ignition switches, repeatedly testified that he did not authorize or know of any such changes.  GM affirmed Mr. DeGiorgio’s testimony in subsequent responses. According to GM’s recent disclosures, Mr. DeGiorgio not only knew of, but authorized, the change in the design of Cobalt ignition switches.

Beasley Allen recently announced it is working with Lance Cooper and The Cooper Firm, based in Atlanta, Ga., to handle product liability claims against GM. Lance Cooper is the lawyer who discovered the automaker’s faulty ignition switch and subsequent cover-up while working on a wrongful death lawsuit in 2011. On May 9, Cooper announced the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Ken and Beth Melton, whose daughter Brooke was killed when her Chevy Cobalt crashed due to the ignition switch defect, are asking a judge to rescind their settlement agreement and have refiled a wrongful death and fraud complaint against GM.

GM says it has linked 31 crashes and 13 deaths to the faulty ignition switch, but an independent study commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety indicates the death toll exceeds 300. It’s very likely that the total number of deaths will exceed that number.

Read the GM Consent Order

About The Cooper Firm

Lance Cooper founded The Cooper Firm in 2006. With experience in substantial personal injury and wrongful death cases, he has represented plaintiffs in numerous civil jury trials and has successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases and gained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients. For more information about our firm, please visit www.thecooperfirm.com.

About Beasley Allen Law Firm

Headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, Beasley Allen is comprised of more than 70 attorneys and 200 support staff. Beasley Allen is a national leader in civil litigation, with verdicts and settlements in excess of $22 billion. For more information about our firm, please visit our website at www.beasleyallen.com.

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Media Contacts:

Victoria Schneider
(770) 427-5588
Victoria@thecooperfirm.com
 
Helen Taylor
(334) 495-1169
(334) 201-2311 cell
(800) 898-2034 x169
helen.taylor@beasleyallen.com

Press Release – Melton Family Refiles Lawsuit Against GM

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News Release

Melton Family Refiles Lawsuit Against GM

May 12, 2014

TCF_logoplaceholderATLANTA, GEORGIA (May 12, 2014) Ken and Beth Melton, parents of a 29-year-old Georgia woman who died in a 2010 crash linked to an ignition switch defect, have re-filed their claims against General Motors, alleging that the automaker fraudulently concealed critical evidence and allowed its corporate representative to commit perjury.  The Meltons have also asked the court to sanction GM for its discovery abuses and the spoliation of evidence.

The civil liability lawsuit, filed in the State Court of Cobb County, Georgia, by attorneys Lance Cooper and Jere Beasley, alleges that GM fraudulently denied that any employee authorized, or even knew of, any design change in Cobalt ignition switches. Specifically, Ray DeGiorgio, the lead design engineer for Cobalt ignition switches, repeatedly testified that he did not authorize or know of any such changes. The company later affirmed his responses. GM’s recent disclosures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and to Congress have revealed that those assertions were false.

“The Meltons would not have settled their case if they had known of the perjury and concealment of critical evidence,” said Lance Cooper, of the Cooper firm in Marietta, Ga., who represented the Meltons.  “It is now apparent that GM’s plan was to resolve the Meltons’ claims before disclosing the Cobalt ignition switch design changes.” Ken and Beth Melton understand the significance of their decision to refile their lawsuit against GM.  “We thought long and hard about this decision.  Ultimately, we decided that GM should not be allowed to get away with what they did in the previous lawsuit.”

Brooke Melton died March 10, 2010, when the ignition module of her 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position as she drove along Highway 92 in Paulding County, Ga. Melton’s Cobalt skidded into another vehicle, and Melton died of her injuries in the crash.  The incident was initially attributed to Melton losing control of her car on a rainy night.  An investigation showed that Melton’s vehicle was actually equipped with a defective ignition module that would travel out of the run position. These shifts occur while the vehicle is underway, creating an emergency situation that incidentally turns off the airbags at the same time it is cutting off the engine power, anti-lock brakes and power steering.

The Melton family sought Cooper’s counsel after facing a legal claim from the driver in the other vehicle. During discovery, GM produced documents showing that GM engineers discovered the ignition switch problem during the Cobalt’s production stage, but took the vehicle to market without remedying the problem. Instead, GM issued Technical Service Bulletins. The fix– an ignition key cover that changed the design from a slot to a key hole — did not solve the problem.

Last September, the Meltons settled their claims against GM. In late January, GM reported the defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and announced a recall of 2005-2007 Cobalt and Pontiac G5 vehicles. The Meltons, however, requested that NHTSA open a recall Timeliness Query, charging that GM had long known about the defect, and that the recall did not cover all of the affected vehicles.  GM eventually widened the recall, and the agency has opened a TQ. But, the case has touched off a national controversy over GM’s handling of the problem and NHTSA’s response. Both have been the subject of Congressional hearings; both have helped form the basis for proposed amendments strengthening NHTSA’s enforcement powers and civil penalties in the Grow America Act, the new transportation bill.

On April 11, the Meltons asked GM to rescind the original settlement, but the company refused.   GM’s attorney, Robert Ellis, responded: “As an initial matter, General Motors LLC (“GM”) denies the assertion that GM fraudulently concealed relevant and critical facts in connection with the Melton matter.  And GM denies it engaged in any improper behavior in that action.

“The response by GM and its lawyers validates our decision,” Ken and Beth said.  “We are hopeful that this new lawsuit will uncover who at GM knew about the design change and why Brooke was never told.”

“Our law firm is honored to be asked by Lance Cooper and the Melton family to assist them in the refiling and trial of the lawsuit against General Motors.” Beasley Allen Founding Shareholder, Jere Beasley said.  “This company has betrayed the American people and must be held accountable for their wanton conduct in the cover-up for over 10 years of a known defect. The Melton family is very brave and courageous in their desire to make sure that the public learns how truly bad GM’s conduct was and how the automaker fraudulently dealt with the initial lawsuit they filed over the tragic death of their daughter. Lying under oath and committing perjury is about as low as it gets and GM must not be allowed to get away with this sort of conduct.”

About The Cooper Firm

Lance Cooper founded The Cooper Firm in 2006. With experience in substantial personal injury and wrongful death cases, he has represented plaintiffs in numerous civil jury trials and has successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases and gained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients. For more information about our firm, please visit www.thecooperfirm.com.

About Beasley Allen Law Firm

Headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, Beasley Allen is comprised of more than 70 attorneys and 200 support staff. Beasley Allen is a national leader in civil litigation, with verdicts and settlements in excess of $22 billion. For more information about our firm, please visit our website at www.beasleyallen.com.

# # #

Media Contacts:

Victoria Schneider
(770) 427-5588
Victoria@thecooperfirm.com
 
Helen Taylor
(334) 495-1169
(334) 201-2311 cell
(800) 898-2034 x169
helen.taylor@beasleyallen.com

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