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3 More Injury Claims Approved in GM Ignition Switch Settlement Fund

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Nearly a year after General Motors (GM) set up the ignition switch settlement fund, three more injury claims have been approved for compensation.

The fund was open for claims from August 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015. Over 4,000 claims were submitted, so it’s taken some time for settlement attorneys to get through them all. They are nearly done now, with just under 300 claims remaining. So far, 124 death claims and 272 injury claims have been approved.

Ignition Switch Problems Came to Light in 2001

When GM first started recalling vehicles because of the ignition switch defect in February 2014, they acknowledged 13 deaths associated with the defect. At issue was the switch, which could jiggle into the “off” position without warning, robbing the vehicle of power to steering, brakes, and air bags.

In cases where the switch turned off during an accident, air bags didn’t deploy as expected, and occupants could be either injured or killed.

The company was aware of a potential issue with the ignition switches as early as 2001, according to the New York Times. Over the years, engineers continued to see problems with them, but potential solutions were rejected based on cost. In 2005, the company actually sent letters to dealerships, telling them to advise customers to keep excess items off their key rings to avoid a potential shut-off.

NHTSA Falls Down on the Job with GM Ignition Switch Monitoring

In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended an investigation after learning of crashes in Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts in which the air bags didn’t deploy. Their Office of Defects Investigation later determined there was no correlation between the crashes and the air bag failures, however, so nothing was done.

The administration suggested another investigation in 2010, but again, no action was taken. It wasn’t until 2012, when GM reported additional crashes associated with the ignition switch, that the wheels began to turn toward a recall—which still didn’t occur for another about two years.

The results of a year-long audit of the NHTSA recently reported that the agency failed repeatedly to find out what was happening with the GM ignition switches. The Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General stated that the safety regulator had overlooked important safety concerns, and rejected staff requests to open investigations.

The audit was formerly released on June 22, 2015. The findings also noted that the NHTSA’s ability to monitor safety defects was undermined by “poor staff training, haphazard collection and analysis of safety defect data, and inconsistent processes for deciding how and when to open defect investigations,” according to AutoNews.

The audit also specifically mentioned NHTSA’s failure to get on top of the GM ignition switch defect, noting that they ignored, for years, complaints that air bags were not deploying as designed in GM vehicles.

GM Paying Some Victims

GM has set aside $550 million to pay victims approved through the settlement fund. Death claims were eligible for a $1 million payout with an additional $300,000 each for the surviving spouse and dependants.

The fund is expected to complete its review of all claims by the end of July 2015.