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Death Toll from GM Ignition Switch Defect Rises to 52

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The number of deaths linked to the General Motors (GM) ignition switch defect has now risen to 52.

When the company began recalling vehicles last February (2014) because of problems with the ignition switch, they acknowledged about 13 deaths connected to the issue. Victims were killed in accidents in which the air bags didn’t deploy because the engine power had been shut off.

According to US News, however, GM’s settlement fund—which has been evaluating claims from injured car owners since August 1, 2014—has determined that so far, 52 people were killed in crashes related to the defect. Settlements have been approved for the families of these individuals.

Death Toll from GM Ignition Switch Likely to Increase

The deadline for applications to the fund was January 31, 2015, with a total of 4,237 claims submitted. Review on over 1,000 of those is still under way. So far, 79 injury claims have been marked as eligible for compensation, as well.

Deputy administrator of the fund, Camille Biros, noted that the number of deaths is expected to increase as the remaining applications are reviewed, which she expects will take until the end of spring. GM has set aside $600 million to cover settlement payments.

GM Under Investigation for Delayed Reaction

GM has been under investigation for the past year because of their delayed reaction to the ignition switch problem. Evidence revealed in court showed that various personnel were aware of an issue at least 10 years ago, but the company failed to take appropriate action to protect the public.

Documents submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last year showed that the issue first came to light in 2001, during testing of a Saturn Ion. According to AutoNews, GM received a report on the Ion’s ignition switch during pre-production development, stating the switch had a problem. A change in design was said to have fixed it, but the company had similar problems later in with vehicles from 2003 to 2011.

The NHTSA eventually fined GM $35 million for failing to report the ignition switch defect within five business days.

GM Still Facing Litigation

Individuals and families who accept payment from the GM settlement fund must consider the matter closed, as they cannot go on to file another ignition switch lawsuit against the company. GM is facing additional litigation, however, from plaintiffs who either did not want to go through the fund or who had issues with vehicles that weren’t eligible under the fund’s rules.

The ignition switch, when it turned off all of a sudden, robbed both the steering and air bags of power. In an accident, the air bags wouldn’t deploy, resulting in serious and sometimes fatal injuries to occupants.