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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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Claimants Flooding the Gates of GM’s Settlement Fund

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Since General Motors (GM) started recalling vehicles near the beginning of 2014, a number of people have come forward seeking to recover damages for injuries and wrongful death claims related to ignition switch defects on some Chevrolets, Saturn, and Pontiac vehicles.

GM recently set up a settlement fund to handle these claims, offering payments from $20,000 to several million dollars, depending on the case. The company worked with the Center for Automotive Safety and plaintiff lawyers to develop the plan, which is expected to remain available through the end of 2014.

Estimates are that nearly 100 people have already filed claims with the fund.

Claimants Filing to Recover Damages from the Fund

According to the New York Times, the GM fund began taking claims on August 1, 2014. Though the company has linked only 13 deaths to the ignition switch problem, the process of going through the claims is expected to change that, as each reveals more evidence connecting the issue to serious automobile accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Claimants have to fill out a good amount of paperwork to file a claim. Forms must include important evidence that supports the request for damages, including police reports, documentation of the ignition switch failure, proof that the vehicle involved was one of those recalled, and more. Those involved in wrongful death claims must also include information on the deceased, including income level, job history, and more.

So far, the fund covers only those vehicles listed in the initial recall announcements in February 2014. GM has made a number of other recalls since then—already topping the charts for the most vehicles recalled in one year, even though the year is not yet over—but claims on the other vehicles have not been approved for coverage through the fund.

Claimants can file through the fund while pursuing separate lawsuits. If they’re unhappy with GM’s response, they can continue with their individual litigation. If the company offers a settlement and the claimant takes it, he or she must then drop the personal lawsuit. GM has set aside $400 million to cover the potential payments, but may be required to dole out more, as there is no cap on the fund.

Company Slow to Address Ignition Switch Defect

For certain vehicles in GM’s inventory, the ignition switch was a little jumpy. It could move on its own from the on to the off position. If this occurred during an accident, it could shut off power to the airbags, preventing them from deploying properly.

Vehicles affected by the ignition switch defect include older models of Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs; Pontiac G5s, Pursuits, and Solstices; and Saturn Ions and Skys. The company has been accused of a delayed response to the issue, failing to implement a recall until this year, even though they were aware of the problem as early as 2004.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Justice Department continue their investigations into GM’s handling of the issue.