GM fund approves three new injury claims to 272

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — General Motors ignition compensation fund said Monday it has approved three new injury claims and no new death claims as the fund plans to complete its review by the end of the month.

The fund run by lawyer Ken Feinberg said it has now approved 396 total claims — including 269 injury claims and 124 death claims. Of those injury claims, 17 are for serious injuries and 255 are for less severe injuries. The fund revised one of the approved injury claims to a less serious injury.

The fund has just seven death and 142 injury claims left to review — meaning the total deaths approved won’t top 131. The fund expects to release final figures by mid-August.

GM said last week it now expects to spend $625 million on compensation efforts — up from its most recent estimate of $550 million. The automaker said it has paid $280 million claims.

GM is paying at least $1 million in each death claim.

GM compensation fund deputy director Camille Biros said last week the fund has made 319 offers — including 95 for deaths — and 227 have been accepted, while six have been rejected and 86 are outstanding.

The automaker 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 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 amount Toyota Motor Corp. paid last year after it was charged with wire fraud. A decision is expected by the end of summer or fall.

Several reports have suggested it is unlikely that individual GM employees will be charged — or that the government will seek to charge GM with bankruptcy fraud. GM is most likely to be charged with wire fraud as part of a settlement — similar to the charge Toyota faced.

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 — which was extended by a month over the initial plan. A total of 3,664 claims have been ruled ineligible, including 338 deaths.

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.

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.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com