GM ignition death toll hits 109

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The General Motors Co. ignition switch compensation fund said Monday that two more death claims were approved last week, bringing the total to 109 to date.

The fund run by lawyer Ken Feinberg said it has also approved nine new injury claims, bringing the total number of approved claims for injuries to 208. Of those, 12 are for serious injuries and 179 are for less severe injuries.

GM is paying at least $1 million in each death claim and has set aside $550 million to pay claims.

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.

The U.S. Justice Department is nearing a decision on whether to charge GM criminally in connection with the delay — and could seek to require a guilty plea or offer a “deferred prosecution” agreement — along with a fine expected to top $1.2 billion.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is being aided by a federal grand jury, the FBI, 50 state attorneys general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Transport Canada in an investigation of GM’s delayed recall, which led to the firings of 15 GM employees last year.

In total, 4,342 claims were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline, including 474 death claims. A total of 374 claims are still under review, including 25 death claims. A total of 2,200 claims have been ruled ineligible, including 265 deaths.

Camille Biros, deputy fund administrator, said last month she hopes the fund will complete its review of still-outstanding claims by the end of July.

The first trial stemming from the dozens of suits filed against GM and consolidated in front of a federal judge in New York is set to start in January. Lawyers are deposing dozens of current and former GM executives, including GM CEO Mary Barra set for October.

It’s not clear if federal prosecutors will seek to charge individual GM employees.

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. Last week, NHTSA said it was extending the monitoring until at least May 2016.