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Deaths Linked to GM Ignition Switch Defect Near 100

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Nearly 100 people have been killed in car accidents related to the General Motors (GM) ignition switch defect.

According to recent reports from ABC and CBS news, GM’s victim compensation fund, which was set up in August 2014 and closed at the end of January 2015, has approved 97 claims for wrongful death. An additional 179 claims for injuries have also been approved.

The parties have not revealed the amounts of the settlements, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the wrongful death payout was at least $1 million.

Almost All GM Settlement Fund Claims Reviewed

The GM settlement fund received 4,342 claims total by the January 31, 2015 deadline. They now report they have only 45 death claims left to review, with a total of 669 claims remaining.

So far, 23.4 percent of death claims have been approved. Victims have also received compensation for serious injuries linked to accidents caused by the ignition switch defect. Some of these were claims for quadriplegia, double amputation and permanent brain damage. Others were for less serious injuries that required hospitalization.

GM began recalling vehicles for the ignition switch defect in February 2014. At the time they acknowledged only 13 deaths linked to the problem. Later investigations revealed that some staff members had been aware of the issue for over a decade, yet the company failed to take the appropriate steps to protect public safety.

A History of Missteps

At issue was the tension level in the ignition switches. They turned out to have a weaker tension than they should have, which allowed them to turn into the “off” position on their own. When this happened during an accident, the air bags were robbed of power and didn’t deploy, putting occupants at risk of serious injury and death.

Employees proposed solutions to fix the problem as early as 2005, but GM rejected these proposals. That year, they sent dealers letters stating that drivers should not overload their key chains, because that could cause the switch to turn. That was also the year that Amber Marie Rose, only 16 years old, died in a Chevrolet Cobalt crash after the ignition switch turned off and disabled her vehicle’s air bags.

In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) recommended an investigation into accidents with GM vehicles in which the air bags did not deploy. The conclusion was that there was no link between the crashes and the non-deploying air bags. The administration opened another investigation in 2010, but again found nothing to report.

A Solution a Long Time Coming

It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that GM finally determined that the ignition switch problem was linked to at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths. In February 2014, they implemented their first recall of 2005-2007 Chevy Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s. Throughout the year of 2014, they recall many more vehicles, until over 2.6 million were on the list for repairs. They also paid a $35 million fine to settle a federal investigation into their delayed action on the ignition switch issue.