Tragic Perk Based Decision Judgment

by Hal Mooz 14. March 2014 09:36

Parents 'Boiling With Anger' After Daughter's Death in GM Car

Four years ago this week, Ken and Beth Melton got the phone call no parent wants to get. Their 29-year-old daughter Brooke was in a Georgia hospital with a broken neck after her Chevrolet Cobalt had spun out of control and sent her into the path of another vehicle.  

The Meltons say they’ve been in a “constant state of grief” ever since, but they’re also angry, because they say their daughter’s fatal accident was caused by a mechanical flaw that GM knew about before Brooke ever bought her car.

Brooke Melton’s 2005 Cobalt was among the 1.6 million cars GM recalled last month for problems with ignition switches. GM has now disclosed to federal regulators that it knew of problems with its ignition switches as early as 2001. But during testimony for a lawsuit that they filed against GM, the Meltons learned that the automaker had come up with a partial fix that would stop some ignition shut-off incidents, but had made a “business decision” not to implement it.

Four days before the accident, according to the Meltons. Brooke’s car had shut off while she was driving and she had lost her power steering and her brakes. She was able to pull her car over and restart it. She called her father, and he said they should take it to a dealership in the morning. Brooke got her car back from the dealership on March 9, 2010. She died in an accident the next day. “There was no doubt in my mind that it was caused by the same engine cutting off,” said Ken. The Meltons called a lawyer.

According to the Meltons, experts contacted by attorney Lance Cooper examined the “black box” from the accident and found that the key had slipped from the “on” to the “accessory” position three seconds before the accident, shutting off her power steering and power brakes. Brooke’s car had then hydroplaned on the wet highway and been struck by another car.

When the Meltons filed suit against GM, they learned via depositions from the automaker’s engineers that the company had been aware of problems before Brooke purchased her car in 2005, and had even considered a partial solution. Engineers were aware that if the key was jostled or stressed by a heavy dangling key chain it might slip and turn the car off. They proposed that GM keys be altered to make the opening for the key ring smaller and reduce jostling of the key.

Instead of changing the keys, however, GM designed an insert that could be added to the keys. It then sent a bulletin to dealer service managers that said the insert could be provided to car owners who came in and complained about ignition shut-offs. Under the program, according to GM warranty records, fewer than 500 drivers received the inserts.

During testimony, GM engineer David Trush, who helped implement the insert fix, called the insert a “good solution” for a “very small population” affected by the problem. “We put the solution out in the field,” said Trush, “the solution that would solve some of the stuff.”

Cooper, the Meltons’ attorney, asked witness Gary Altman, who was GM’s program engineering manager for the Cobalt in 2004 and 2005, if it was true that the car company “made a business decision not to fix this problem and five months later sold [Brooke Melton] a vehicle with the problem.” GM’s lawyer objected, but Altman answered, “That is what happened, yes.

 An engineer hired by the plaintiffs as an expert witness claimed in his testimony that internal GM documents showed that GM had estimated the cost per car of making the change would be less than $1.

 “It has to be money,” said Beth Melton. “It has to come down to money but that really doesn’t even make sense to me. In the end, they’re going to have to pay for it. They need to care about their customers. They need to care about human lives.”

According to GM’s figures, the defect has been linked to 12 deaths. Brooke Melton’s death is not among the deaths GM listed. “If it's caused one single death, to me that's enough,” said Ken Melton. “One single death is enough to make a recall."

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About Hal Mooz

Engineer, Project Manager, Entrepreneur, Author, Trainer, Lecturer, Thought Leader, Consultant

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