GM Ignition-Switch Death Toll Rises to 97

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/TNS) -

The death toll from General Motors’ defective-ignition-switch crashes rose to 97 last week, the fund handling compensation of victims reported Monday.

That’s an increase of seven from the week before.

The GM Ignition Compensation Fund, led by Ken Feinberg, has 669 applications to review out of the 4,342 that were submitted between last August and Jan. 31, 2015. Nearly 75 percent, or 3,067, have been deemed ineligible for any compensation.

The fund staff has found 12 cases where people suffered quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation, brain damage or pervasive burns from a crash for which the defective ignition switch was the primary cause. They are eligible for significant payments. Another 276 people who suffered less-severe injuries that required hospitalization or outpatient treatment have been offered compensation.

The claims arose from GM’s recall of about 2.5 million small cars, mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions from the 2003 through 2007 model years. The switches on those cars sometimes slipped from the “on” to the “accessory” position, either from the weight of a keychain or from inadvertent contact with a driver’s leg. That caused a loss of electrical power to the vehicles’ steering and air bags.

A few of the automaker’s engineers knew about the problem at least as early as 2003. Some GM attorneys knew by early 2013 that there were deaths that may have been caused by the defect, but the company didn’t begin recalling the models in question until February 2014.

Last month, GM increased the amount it has set aside for the cost of the compensation fund to $550 million from $400 million. The fund staff will continue their review until they have evaluated every application.