GM victim fund makes 15 compensation offers

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

General Motors Co.’s victim compensation fund has made its first cash compensation offers, with formal proposals going to 15 people who have filed claims, the fund’s director said.

In a Detroit News interview Wednesday, lawyer Ken Feinberg said the offers had been made during the previous 24 hours by the independent fund established to compensate victims and families of those injured or killed as a result of defective ignition switches in GM. If offers are accepted, those people will get formal letters and must sign releases absolving GM of future claims. They would then get a check in two or three weeks. There is no timetable for accepting or rejecting the offers, Feinberg said.

The 15 claims are a mix of death and injury claims, Feinberg said. The fund will pay at least $1 million for each death claim, along with $300,000 payments to surviving spouses and children for pain and suffering. In addition, it will calculate the economic value of the life lost. The fund has no cap on overall payments.

At the same time, the number of claims the fund has received is continuing to grow. The fund said late Wednesday it has now received 850 total claims for deaths and injury claims, up from 675 through last Friday.

Lawyers for victims and their families can propose to Feinberg for why the victim was entitled to higher damages for “extraordinary circumstances” — for instance, a crash prevented them from going to law school, or a victim was convicted of criminal charges in a crash that was the fault of the ignition switch.

On Monday, the fund said it had approved 21 death claims, in addition to four claims for serious injuries and 12 claims for less serious injuries. That’s up from the 19 deaths and 12 other claims it had approved as of Sept. 12.

The fund through Friday included 143 requests for death compensation, up from 131 the previous week.

The claims stem from GM’s delayed recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with defective ignition switches that can accidentally turn off the engine and disable power steering, power brakes and air bags. Some at the automaker knew of problems for more than a decade before the cars were recalled. In May, GM paid a record-setting $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

About one-third of the claims have been submitted without supporting paperwork and are automatically deemed incomplete initially. The fund then works with people making claims and their lawyers to amass supporting evidence like photographs, police reports, insurance claims and repair records. “Give us some circumstantial evidence that it’s the ignition switch that caused the accident,” Feinberg said.

The breakdown now includes 65 claims for serious injuries, up from 58 a week ago. The biggest jump came among requests for claims from less serious injuries, with 467 claims compared to 262 a week ago.

Feinberg said the increase is largely due to a couple of lawyers filing numerous claims. “The number of deaths will continue to inch up,” Feinberg said, declining to offer any estimate of the final total. “It is still early in the program.”