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GM ignition death toll rises to 74, up 7

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

General Motors Co.’s ignition switch compensation fund on Monday said it has approved seven additional death claims linked to its delayed recall of 2.6 million cars, raising the latest total to 74 deaths.

The fund also said it approved 13 new injury claims. Of the 126 injury claims approved so far, 11 are for the most serious injuries and 115 are for less severe injuries. All of the new approvals were for less serious injuries.

The fund’s deputy administrator, Camille Biros, said last week that the fund has extended 119 offers; 93 have been accepted and five have been rejected. Biros said 61 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 the 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.

In total, 4,342 claims were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline, including 475 death claims. To date, 1,025 total claims have been ruled ineligible, including 154 death claims. The number of claims ruled ineligible rose by 185 in the last week.

A total of 1,326 claims are still under review — including 95 death claims — while 716 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.

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