• Final Death Toll From GM’s Defective Ignition Switches is Debatable

General Motors has claimed that 124 deaths were the result of faulty ignition switches. The number is almost 10 times more than the 13 deaths the company admitted to about a year ago, but 214 short of the total 338 death claims filed. The findings come from an internally appointed review team that considered over 4,300 death and injury claims.

As you might expect, not everyone is satisfied with GM’s findings. The Detroit News spoke with the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow, who said the “burden of proof on the individual consumer was always too high,” and that it was impossible for some would-be claimants to produce sufficient documentation.

“The entire program was designed to get [sic] help get Congress and the Justice Department off GM’s back,” Ditlow told The Detroit News. “The one thing is clear that we will never know how many people were killed or injured because it goes back so far.”

In addition to the death claims paid, the General Motors compensation fund will also pay out 274 injury claims, but says there are still a few left to review. Of the 4,342 total claims filed, 338 of which were for deaths, about 91 percent were rejected. So far, GM has paid about $280 million in claims and expects that number to climb to $625 million. Several claims have been rejected or not yet accepted.

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GM hired lawyer Ken Feinberg to direct the fund, which will pay out a minimum of $1 million per death. There’s no cap, but the final amount will not include punitive damages. Feinberg also operated funds for victims and family members of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Boston Marathon bombing, Virginia Tech shootings and the Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill.

The faulty switches were fitted mostly to Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ions. Under certain circumstances the key would switch to the off position, which would result in the electrical system shutting down. This in turn caused the engine turn off, with a sudden loss of power steering and disabled airbags.

Why it matters

Putting a dollar amount on the loss of life is a grim, but necessary task for General Motors. The company is eager to move on from this tragic debacle, but is still a long way from doing so. The company still faces several other lawsuits related to the defective switches. Many owners are suing GM, claiming the recalls reduced the value of their cars. Shareholders are also suing, and GM could still face a $1.2 billion federal lawsuit from the U.S. Justice department for failing to admit to the defect for nearly a decade.

On a personal note, I can recall encountering this defect several times during the course of my nine-year valet career, which makes sense given the recall affected 2.59 million vehicles.

Source: Detroit News

James Wolfcale
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