GM ignition death toll rises to 119
Washington — General Motors ignition compensation fund said Monday it has approved two new death claims to 119 as the fund nears an end.
The fund run by lawyer Ken Feinberg said it has also approved six new injury claims — including one new serious injury claim — bringing the total number of approved claims for injuries to 243. Of that total, 14 are for serious injuries and 229 are for less severe injuries
The fund is nearly at the end of its year-old review of ignition deaths and injuries; but the number of claims under review remained flat over a week earlier. Just 81 of the 4,342 claims submitted — or 1.8 percent — are currently under review. At the current pace, the fund hopes to complete its work by the end of July.
GM is paying at least $1 million in each death claim and has set aside $550 million to pay claims.
The fund’s deputy administrator, Camile Biros, said last week that the fund has made 247 compensation offers and 190 have been accepted; to date, six were rejected. The rest are still awaiting decisions.
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.
GM stopped updating its own count of deaths or injuries related to the issue last year.
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 81 claims are still under review, including 16 death claims. A total of 3,027 claims have been ruled ineligible, including 288 deaths.
Another 872 claims are currently listed as “deficient.”
Biros said last week that those “deficient” claims will get a final review before the fund is finished.
“We are moving quickly now to make final determinations — so these will quickly be moved to eligible/ ineligible buckets,” Biros said last week
Neither GM nor the fund have disclosed any concrete details about who has been approved for compensation or demographic characteristics of those approved.
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 and former CEO Rick Wagoner in September.
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 month, NHTSA said it was extending the monitoring until at least May 2016.