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Deaths Linked to GM Ignition Switch Defect Rises to 67

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The deadline for getting claims into General Motors’ ignition switch settlement fund was January 31, 2015. The number of deaths related to the faulty switch continues to rise, however, as attorney Kenneth Feinberg and his staff go through the remaining claims.

As of March 16, 2015, the fund had approved payments for the families of 67 people who died in accidents related to the ignition switch problem. There may be more, as over a thousand claims have yet to be reviewed. This is a far cry from the 13 deaths the company acknowledged last February when they began recalling vehicles for repairs.

Settlement Fund Continues to Approve Claims for Payment

According to USA Today, in addition to the 67 death claims approved, a total of 108 injury claims have also been deemed eligible for payments. Plaintiffs who accept GMs offer of settlement will give up their right to pursue additional lawsuits. All but five of the plaintiffs offered payments so far have accepted them.

A total of 4,343 claims were submitted to the fund between August 1, 2014 and January 31, 2015. Over 2,600 were ruled ineligible because they didn’t contain the appropriate documents or evidence. Currently, there are just over 1,500 claims left to review.

Despite these settlements, GM still faces a number of ignition-switch lawsuits across the country. In June 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all federal cases into the Southern District of New York for coordinated proceedings. Judge Jesse M. Furman was designated to oversee the proceedings. The first bellwether trials are scheduled to begin in January 2016.

GM Knew About the Problem for Years

GM owned up to the ignition switch defect in February 2014, when they began a series of recalls to repair affected vehicles. Plaintiffs claim it was too little, too late, as the company had allegedly been aware of the problem for at least a decade before that. Evidence has revealed that GM’s engineers reported problems with the ignition switches as early as 2004, noting that it could turn to the off position on its own.

If this happened while driving, important systems like the steering, brakes, and air bags were robbed of power, which could prove deadly in an accident. GM is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for its mishandling of the issue, and has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) for failing to report the problem much earlier.

GM Seeking Bankruptcy Protection

Though plaintiffs who filed claims through GM’s settlement fund may find compensation there, others have filed individual lawsuits against the company. These are further complicated if they involved vehicles made before 2009, when GM declared bankruptcy. The company has been trying to unload responsibility for these vehicles in bankruptcy court, claiming liabilities for them should be assigned to the “Old GM” trust.

It remains to be seen if plaintiffs will be able to sue GM directly for these older vehicles. Federal Judge Robert Gerber, who is overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings, recently indicated that the court will look into the issue of whether GM violated car owners’ rights by concealing knowledge of the defect during their bankruptcy. If it is concluded that they did, GM may lose its protective shield against these cases.

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  1. Greg says:
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    I was injured in a GM vehicle I believe had a ignition switch defect. The car lost power steering and upon impact the air bags did not deploy. I was 11 years old at the time & am now paralyzed. Thankfully, GM saved some money instead of paying out to people under similar circumstances. They deserve it (unreal)