GM fund approves 23 death claims

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The General Motors Co. compensation fund has approved 23 death claims for people killed as a result of defective ignition switches in since-recalled cars, an increase of two since last week. In addition, it has approved 16 claims for injuries, the fund said in a report Monday.

The fund administered by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg has received 867 claims, including 153 for deaths, through Friday. It has received 70 claims for serious injuries and 644 for less-serious injuries.

Separately, a lawyer for a family involved in a serious crash said they had agreed to settle, making them at least the third family to do so. Last week, Feinberg said the fund had made offers to 15 victims and their families. Feinberg said the number of deaths approved will continue to “inch up.”

Bob Hilliard, a Texas lawyer, said the parents of Trenton Buzard of Pennsylvania have agreed to accept settlement for serious injuries.

On April 2, 2009, which was 10 days before Trenton Buzard’s second birthday, he was riding with his great-grandmother in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt when, according to the claim, the ignition switch turned off the engine and the car lost power steering and power braking. It collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle, Hilliard said. She was killed and Trenton — who was strapped in a car seat — was paralyzed from the chest down, with a lifetime of medical care ahead of him.

“Trenton’s life care plan — that is, the cost to be sure he receives the gold standard of what he will medically need as well as what he can use to improve his mobility and quality of life — was extensive,” Hilliard 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.

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 for delaying the recall.