Attorney: Two clients agree to GM fund offer

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

A Texas attorney representing dozens of families linked to the General Motors Co. ignition switch recall said Thursday that two of his clients have agreed to take settlement offers from the GM compensation fund. The settlements are believed to be the first accepted under GM's victims compensation fund.

Bob Hilliard said he has received verbal offers for 12 clients, mostly for death cases. He confirmed the families of Natasha Weigel, 18, and Amy Rademaker, 15, who were killed following a 2006 crash, have agreed to take settlement offers from the GM victims compensation fund. He would not disclose the amounts of the settlements.

Rademaker's mother, Margie Beskau, confirmed Thursday in an email she has agreed to a fund settlement offer and was dropping her lawsuit against GM. The lawsuit could take years to play out in court.

"The simple reason is that GM is hiding behind their bankruptcy and Amy passed away in 2006 and GM filed bankruptcy in 2009," Beskau wrote. "It was more beneficial emotionally and financially this way. My family has been through enough."

Ken Rimer, whose stepdaughter Weigel was killed following the crash, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he and his wife Jayne have agreed to accept the fund's offer. They hope to move on from this, he said.

"There's still many stumbling blocks before us, with the bankruptcy," he said. "I don't think we can get past that."

Weigel had just graduated from Albert Lea High School in Minnesota and was living in Wisconsin with Jayne and Ken Rimer just before the crash. She was in a coma for 11 days and died Nov. 4, 2006.

Both Rademaker and Weigel were killed when the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt they were riding in went off the road into a ditch, went airborne and struck a telephone box and two trees. The ignition key was found to be in the "accessory" position after the crash and the air bags did not inflate.

Rademaker was a sophomore at Baldwin-Woodville High School in Wisconsin and died a few hours after the crash. She wanted to be a daycare teacher.

On Wednesday, lawyer Ken Feinberg, who is administering the GM victims fund, told The Detroit News that formal proposals were going to 15 people who had filed claims.

"Generally, I have found the offers to be reasonable," Hilliard said in an email. "Each case is fact specific with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some must contend with the GM's bankruptcy defense, some with potential issues of contributory negligence and causation."

The wreckage of a Chevrolet Cobalt driven by Megan Ungar-Kerns on October 24, 2006, on a highway in St. Croix County, Wisc. The vehicle traveled onto the south shoulder and, into the south ditch. The vehicle then launched off of the west edge of a driveway and became airborne. The vehicle landed and traveled through the ditch before striking a telephone junction box and two trees.

The fund will pay at least $1 million for a 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. So far, the fund hasapproved 21 death claims.

In an interview Wednesday, Feinberg said he expected after victims or their families agree to settle and sign paperwork, checks would go out in two to three weeks.

Earlier this year, GM recalled nearly 2.6 million older Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars for the faulty ignition switches.

Hilliard said he is awaiting word back from the fund on another about 50 claims that have been submitted for some time; his firm just sent in about 150 new claims in the past few days.

"When possible, I hope to help my clients put this behind them as quickly as they can and begin to heal," Hilliard said.

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Staff Writer David Shepardson contributed.