August 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Victim claims on GM compensation fund near 100

Compensation fund gets scores of filings in opening 2 days

Washington— General Motors Co.’s compensation fund for those killed or injured as a result of defective ignition switches had received 93 applications for awards through Monday.

The fund began accepting applications for funding on Friday and received about 50 applications the first day, said Camille S. Biros, deputy administrator of the fund. Biros said most don’t have the supporting documents, but lawyers plan to submit them.

Once the fund determines applications are “substantially complete,” it plans to make compensation decisions within 90 days for simpler claims and 180 days for more complicated ones.

Most have been mass filings sent electronically by lawyers representing many victims linked to GM’s recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ion and other cars linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes. Some have said they plan to file hundreds of claims related to a defect with the switches that allows the key to inadvertently turn off the car, disabling power steering and air bags.

Biros said the toll-free information number and website are operating smoothly. GM says it has repaired 683,196 of the cars and will have built enough switches to repair all 2.6 million vehicles — including 2.2 million in the United States — by October.

GM has set aside $400 million to pay claims but said the total could hit $600 million. GM and the fund’s administrator, Ken Feinberg, both have repeatedly stressed that there is no cap on total claims.

The fund launch comes as GM lawyers are fighting in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to toss out some lawsuits filed against GM for other vehicles built before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber has set an Aug. 18 hearing.

GM has been hit by a wave of lawsuits related to its ignition switch as well as other recalls. The automaker’s North American unit has recalled a record 29 million vehicles this year in 60 separate campaigns. GM said it knows of 95 class-action suits claiming owners have been economically harmed by the recalls. The suits seek compensation for the diminished value of the vehicles along with punitive damages. GM is fighting those claims. The victims fund only offers compensation to people injured in crashes as a result of the ignition switch defect.

GM also said more than 100 cases (including personal injury cases) have been transferred and consolidated to a federal court in New York.

The automaker faces investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, aided by the FBI and a grand jury, the Securities and Exchange Commission, 45 state attorneys general and Congress. The Orange County, Calif. district attorney has sued GM under California consumer protection statutes for economic damages as well as civil penalties and punitive damages. GM also faces shareholder lawsuits and suits connected to other ignition issues in other recalled vehicles.

Among the issues federal prosecutors are investigating is whether GM committed bankruptcy fraud by failing to disclose ignition issues at the time of its restructuring.

GM CEO Mary Barra fired 15 employees after an internal report from a former U.S. attorney found a pattern of “incompetence and neglect” led to the failure to recall the vehicles for nearly a decade. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also fined GM $35 million and the automaker agreed to up to three years of special monitoring.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com