The number of deaths tied to a defective ignition switch in GM vehicles continues to rise. A week after Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney and independent administrator overseeing a GM compensation fund for victims have disclosed the death toll had swollen to 19 from the initial 13, comes news of another 2 fatalities linked to the accidents caused by the recalled part.
Feinberg`s office has also reported that 4 additional claims for serious physical injuries and 12 claims for minor injuries were deemed eligible.
The automaker is offering to pay up to several million dollars to the families of the victims killed in accidents and those injured. The reimbursement will be linked to the level of injury or loss experienced. At least $1 million will be paid for an eligible death claim, plus payments of $300, 000 to surviving family members.
Claims can be submitted till December 31. GM spokesman Dave Roman said that Ken Feinberg`s team will determine on their own the terminal number of eligible claims, and their determinations will be accepted for the compensation program. The automaker`s goal is to reach as many eligible people as possible, according to Roman.
The automaker`s initial toll of 13 deaths only included front-seat occupants and drivers killed because their airbags failed to deploy due to faulty ignition, which had inadvertently been turned off. GM has excluded backseat occupants, as they would have been killed no matter whether the airbags deployed or not.
But in case the faulty ignition switch itself caused the accident – the engine turned off while the vehicle was in motion, causing the driver to panic and taking away the power steering and brakes – then any fatalities or injuries to the backseat occupants are linked to the ignition defect. That`s the approach taken by Kenneth Feinberg`s group.
Even if eligibility is determined, it doesn`t mean that a family or victim will agree to accept the automaker`s offer, so it`s too early to speak about how much the fund will pay out, according to Feinberg. Accepting compensation means agreeing not to sue General Motors, and some families have already announced that they will decline the Feinberg process and seek justice in court. However, Feinberg is confident that majority of claimants will agree to accept the compensation offered by GM fund.
The problem with faulty ignition switches went unreported for a decade, years after the automaker`s engineers disclosed it. The faulty switches caused brake and steering issues, as well as prevented the airbag from deploying.