Number of GM Ignition Deaths Rises to 21

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

The death toll from crashes involving General Motors small cars with faulty ignition switches has risen to at least 21.

As of Friday, GM victim-fund chief Ken Feinberg had awarded settlements to 21 families of people who were killed because of the defect, according to figures released Monday. That’s up from 19 a week earlier.

Families of people who died will get at least $1 million.

GM initially said the number of people who died in accidents blamed on the ignition switch was at least 13, but that figure was expected to rise as more victims came forward.

Feinberg is accepting applications for compensation through Dec. 31.

He has received applications from 143 people who say their family member was killed because of the issue. He has also received applications from 65 people who say they were seriously injured and 467 who say they suffered other injuries.

As of Friday, he had awarded settlements to four people who suffered serious injuries and 12 who suffered minor injuries.

GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters on Friday that the higher figures didn’t catch the company off guard.

“There’s been so much focus on the original number, but we’ve always said, all along, that was based on the information that we had available to us,” she said. “There’s no surprises. Our goal has been every person impacted is a part of that program and that’s the process we’re working through.”

Feinberg said applicants who have not been awarded compensation are either still being evaluated or have insufficient records to prove their case.

The faulty switches were installed in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions, Pontiac G5s, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac Solstices and Saturn Skys, mostly from the 2003-07 model years. GM has recalled up to 2.6 million of those models.

The ignition switches turn off when jostled, cutting off power to engines, air bags and other features.

Applicants must prove that they were hurt because of the defect.

GM’s decision not to recall the cars until early this year — despite evidence that some employees knew of the problem more than a decade earlier — triggered numerous lawsuits and investigations, including a criminal probe by the U.S. Justice Department.

The compensation fund is unlimited, but GM has estimated that it will cost between $400 million and $600 million to settle all eligible claims. That doesn’t include jury awards to victims who choose to sue GM instead of accepting settlements. It doesn’t include any potential government fines.

Feinberg has spelled out criteria for eligibility at GMIgnitionCompensation.com. If he determines the defect was the “substantial cause” of the accident, he will use actuarial tables and average medical-cost data to calculate the size of a payout.