GM fund approves 7 new death claims to 64

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — General Motors Co.’s ignition switch compensation fund on Monday said it has approved seven new death claims linked to its delayed recall of 2.6 million vehicles, raising the latest total to 64 deaths.

The fund also said it approved four new injury claims. Of the injury claims approved so far, 11 are for the most serious injuries and 97 are for less severe injuries.

The fund’s deputy administrator, Camille Biros, said last week that the fund has extended 109 offers; 84 have been accepted and five have been rejected. That’s the first time the fund has said any claims have been rejected. Biros said 50 payments have been made or are in the process of being made. If a person or victim’s family accepts an award, it must give up its right to sue GM.

GM initially said last year that 13 deaths were related to now-recalled Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with ignition switches that can inadvertently shut off the engine and disable power steering and air bags. The automaker delayed recalling the cars for nearly a decade after some within the company became aware there was a problem.

The fund is using a much broader definition to determine if deaths are related to the defect — including pedestrians who may have been killed as a result of a defective GM car.

Some people have sued GM seeking compensation. GM is fighting in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to bar claims from owners who say they have suffered economic losses and some personal injury claims for crashes that occurred before its June 2009 emergence from bankruptcy as a new government-sponsored firm made from the good assets of “old GM.”

In total, 4,343 claims were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline, including 478 death claims. To date, 742 total claims have been ruled ineligible, including 115 death claims. A total of 1,571 claims are still under review, while 781 have been submitted without documentation.

A surge in claims before the Jan. 31 deadline means the program will spend until at least “very late spring” before it can rule on all the claims, the fund run by compensation lawyer Ken Feinberg said last month.

Feinberg has said it could take as long as six months from the time the program received the final claim for serious injuries or deaths. Hundreds of the final claims were submitted with little or no paperwork, making it difficult to assess how many may be deemed valid.

GM set aside $400 million to pay claims but said it could be as high as $600 million. GM Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens on Monday declined to offer any update on whether the claims would remain in that range.

Feinberg has said all approved death claims will get at least $1 million. Based on the claims received and payments made, GM is not expected to see its costs top that range, but there are still hundreds of claims that haven’t been reviewed.

In a recent regulatory filing, GM said it has paid $93 million through its compensation program for those killed or injured as a result of defective ignition switches.