21 Deaths Now Tied To GM Ignition Defect

The number of deaths tied to defective ignition switches in General Motors vehicles continues to increase. A week after the overseer of the independent compensation fund revealed that the death toll had swollen to 19 from the original 13 that GM had previously admitted, comes news of additional fatalities linked to the defect that went ignored for more than a decade.

Ken Feinberg, the lawyer appointed to head up the fund, is now providing weekly updates of the status of claims submitted to the carmaker.

This morning, his office said that 21 death claims have been approved, along with four additional claims for serious injuries and a dozen claims for minor injuries.

In total, the fund had received 143 claims for death compensation, accounting for more than 20% of the 675 total claims received thus far.

The fund says that a number of claims submitted were initially ineligible because they were incomplete, but it is working with claimants and their lawyers to get the paperwork completed properly and before the Dec. 31 deadline.

It’s expected that those with approved claims will begin to receive settlement offers from the fund later this week. When the fund was launched over the summer, GM said there would be no cap to the claims, but that compensation would be tied to the level of injury and loss experienced. An approved death claim is expected to result in an offer of compensation for at least $1 million, plus payments of $300,000 to surviving family members.

The claimants are not obligated to accept the compensation, but if they do take the money they give up their rights to pursue legal action against GM with regard to the ignition defect.

GM’s initial tally of 13 deaths only included drivers and front-seat passengers who were killed when their airbags failed to deploy because the ignition had inadvertently been turned off. That means that passengers in the backseat were excluded, as they would have died regardless of whether or not the airbags deployed.

But if the ignition defect itself was the cause of the accident — the engine turns off while driving, causing the driver to panic and taking away the vehicle’s power steering and brakes — then it is responsible for any injuries to the backseat passengers, right? That’s the approach being taken by the compensation fund.

Additionally, the fund is considering claims from pedestrians and people in other cars that were harmed by an out-of-control GM vehicle.

GM CEO Mary Barra said on Friday that she wasn’t surprised to see the number of deaths rising.

“[W]e’ve always said all along that was the information that we had available to us,” she explained. “So there’s no surprises. Our goal has been that every person impacted is a part of that program and that’s the process that we’re working through.”

GM ignition death toll hits 21 [Detroit News]

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