GM ignition fund approves 7 new claims to 97 deaths

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Officials for the fund reviewing compensation claims linked to a deadly ignition-switch defect in 2.6 million General Motors cars said Monday seven additional death claims were approved, raising the total to 97 deaths.

They also approved 16 new injury claims. Of the 179 injury claims approved, 12 are for serious injuries and 167 are for less severe injuries. This is the biggest number of approvals in a single week since the program began announcing weekly updates last year.

The move means the compensation fund is almost certain to approve more than 100 death claims in the coming weeks. Camille Biros, deputy fund administrator, said Monday she hopes the fund will complete its review of the hundreds of outstanding claims by the end of July.

GM initially said last year that 13 deaths were related to Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with ignition switches that can inadvertently shut off the engine and disable power steering and air bags.

GM delayed recalling the cars for nearly a decade even after some within the company became aware there was a problem.

Fund officials are 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.

The Justice Department, 50 state attorneys general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Transport Canada are investigating GM’s delayed recall, which led to the firings of 15 GM executives last year.

Some Wall Street analysts have speculated GM may have to pay a fine to resolve the investigations that could top $2 billion. GM in May 2014 paid a $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to resolve its investigation and agreed to up to three years of intense monitoring.

In total, 4,342 claims were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline, including 474 death claims. A total of 669 claims are still under review, including 45 death claims. A total of 1,693 claims have been ruled ineligible, including 212 deaths. Of the claims, 330 have been submitted without documentation.

Biros said last month that 167 offers have been made and 113 accepted, five have been rejected and 81 have been paid to date. Dozens of lawsuits are pending against GM over crashes and economic loss claims linked to the recall in U.S. District Court in New York. The first case is set to go to trial in January.

Lawyers representing owners will depose more than three dozen current and former GM executives over the coming months.

Alicia Boler-Davis, senior vice president of global connected customer experience will be the first GM official to be deposed on Wednesday.

Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who is one of three lead attorneys for class-action personal injury and death lawsuits against GM, said the depositions will continue for five months and conclude with CEO Mary Barra on Oct. 8.

A deposition is the sworn, out-of-court oral questioning and testimony of a witness that is reduced to writing for later use in court or for discovery purposes.

The depositions will include many of the 15 former lawyers and executives fired by Barra last year. .

Last month, GM upped the amount it expected to spent to pay claims to $550 million — up from an initial $400 million. GM said last year it could be as high as $600 million. It expects the fund to complete its review of claims by Sept. 30.