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As the Year Comes to a Close, GM Deaths Expected to Rise

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At the end of October 2014, the number of deaths attributed to the General Motors ignition switch defect had reached 29. GM started a settlement fund in August of this year to accommodate plaintiffs with injury claims, and so far has received over 1,500 applications. Of these, they have so far determined that 56 are eligible for compensation, including 29 that involved claims of wrongful death.

Now, according to Bloomberg, the number of deaths may continue to rise in the coming months, as more claims are filed before the December 31, 2014 deadline.

Number of Ignition Switch Fatalities Expected to Increase

When GM implemented its initial recall in early 2014, it acknowledged a total of 13 deaths that were tied to the issue. Certain GM cars had switches that could turn off without notice, robbing the air bags of power. If the switch turned prior to an accident, the air bags would not deploy, creating a significant safety hazard for drivers and passengers.

As lawyers review claims in the GM settlement fund, however, more injuries and deaths are coming to light. Bloomberg reports that 150 more fatality claims are currently under review, and that the number may spike as the year draws to a close and consumers realize the deadline is approaching.

So far, GM has set aside $600 million to cover payouts, but some believe that may prove to be insufficient. To qualify for payment, plaintiffs must prove that the ignition switch was directly related to any injuries or deaths. Customers must supply photographs, black-box data, or other evidence to show the connection.

Federal GM Lawsuits Consolidated in New York

Plaintiffs have a choice of whether to seek compensation through the GM settlement fund or through a personal injury lawsuit. Some have chosen to do both. If their application through the fund is approved, they can drop the lawsuit. If not, they can pursue compensation through a separate GM lawsuit.

In June 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ordered all federal GM lawsuits consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Judge Jesse M. Furman was appointed to oversee the proceedings.

At the time, at least fifteen cases were moved to New York, though that number is also expected to increase. The judge has since ordered both sides to work together to coordinate discovery, in an effort to ensure efficient and speedy resolution of the litigation.

Company Criticized for Handling of Ignition Switch Problem

The automaker has been criticized in the past several months for their mishandling of the ignition switch problem. Evidence revealed in early trials showed that they were aware of issues with certain vehicles as early as 2004, but failed to respond in an effective way. Instead, they suggested “band-aid” fixes like advising consumers to remove extra keys from their key ring to avoid increasing its weight, which was believed to encourage malfunction.

GM made the record books this year for recalling more vehicles than any other automaker in a single year—30 million at last count.