On March 6, 2010, Brook Melton dropped off her 2005 Cobalt from the dealership after experiencing a problem with the ignition shutting off while she was driving. She had lost her power steering and brakes and had to pull over the car to restart it. Her father insisted she take it to the dealership for repairs. She picked it up from the dealership on March 9, 2010. The next day, Brook was tragically killed when her vehicle spun out of control and sent her into the path of another vehicle. She had suffered fatal injuries from a broken neck. An expert examined the “black box” inside the Cobalt and discovered that three seconds prior to the accident, the key had slipped from the “on” position to the “accessory” position, shutting off her power steering and brakes and causing the fatal accident.
Now, four years later, General Motors is recalling 1.6 million cars, including the 2005 Cobalt, for problems with the ignition switch. This problem has been linked to twelve deaths. Although General Motors has admitted the company was aware of ignition problems prior to Brooke purchasing her car in 2005 and in fact, nearly a decade prior to issuing a recall, they only proposed an insert as a solution, rather than changing the keys, as recommended by engineers. The insert was made available only to car owners who came in to complain about ignition shut-offs. Under the program, fewer than 500 drivers received the inserts. The Cobalt’s program engineering manager, Gary Altman, stated the inserts were an “improvement, it was not a fix to the issue”.
For Ken Melton, Brooke Melton’s father, the information that General Motors had made a “business decision” not to implement a proposed solution that would stop some ignition shut-off incidents was difficult to hear. “I was furious that this information was known about and not taken care of before in 2005,” said Ken Melton. “If it had been, my daughter would still be here and we would not be here talking about this.” General Motors alleged that if GM had felt that changing the key was a 100 percent fix, it would have spent the money to make the change. Testimony in the case from Mr. Altman alleged that the Melton’s car was not “unsafe” and that it “could still be maneuvered to the side of the road”.
General Motors settled the lawsuit by the Melton estate, however would not comment on the lawsuit as a dealer lawsuit is still in progress. The terms of the Melton settlement with GM are confidential.