— General Motors says it knows of 13 deaths related to the defective ignition switch that GM ignored for 10 years. But lawyers representing GM families say that number is much higher, as evidenced by the number of death claims submitted to GM's compensation program.
GM created the program for those who have lost loved ones or who have suffered injuries, with family members of those who died eligible for at least $1 million. The spouse or dependent of a deceased victim will qualify for an additional $300,000. GM put $400 million in the fund, although that number could be increased based on the type, number and validity of claims.
The ignition switch compensation program began accepting claims on August 1 and will remain open for filing claims until December 31, 2014. Although the official ignition switch death count from GM is 13, the number of death claims filed so far has reached over 100. The total number of claims, both death and injury, has topped 300 as of September 1, 2014.
Although the number of fatality claims is far above the 13 fatalities named by GM, every claim will need to be evaluated by Kenneth Feinberg, the person responsible for overseeing the compensation fund. Within 90 to 180 days after a claim is submitted, Feinberg and his staff will determine if it was really the ignition switch that caused an accident, injury or death.
Feinberg will then determine how much compensation should be awarded to the victim or family members. Lawyers for the families will then decide if the compensation should be accepted. Once a victim or family member agrees to accept money from GM, they will waive their right to sue GM over the ignition switch defect.
Mr. Feinberg is no amateur at leading compensation programs similar to the GM ignition switch fund. In the past, Feinberg has been in charge of compensation programs for the victims of the 2010 BP oil spill and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.