The number of deaths linked to the ignition switch defect in more than a decade of General Motors (GM) vehicles continues to climb, with the latest toll hitting 23, according to a report by Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer overseeing a fund established to compensate crash victims and their families.
After it finally began recalling vehicles affected by the potentially deadly ignition flaw last February, GM said that it had linked the defect to 13 deaths and 54 crashes. Underscoring the seriousness of the problem, safety advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, said the real toll was likely to be much higher.
On Sept. 15, Mr. Feinberg said that GM had connected 19 total deaths to the ignition switch defect via the compensation fund’s criteria for crash victims.
Claims to the fund have soared in recent days. On Sept. 15, Mr. Feinberg said that a total of 445 claims had been made – 125 death claims and 320 injury claims. That number had escalated to 850 last week and 1,867 this week. The fund has received 153 death claims altogether.
The ignition switch defect can allow the key to turn to the “accessory” or “off” position while the vehicle is in motion. This can happen when the car drives over a bump or rough surface, jostling the key, especially if the key ring contains a fob, other keys, or chains. The flaw can suddenly deactivate the vehicle’s power steering, anti-lock brakes, and air bags.
GM has dedicated $400 million to cover compensation costs, but the fund is uncapped. Under the terms of the fund, GM will pay all eligible death claims at least $1 million or more depending on various factors, such as whether the deceased had dependents.
Mr. Feinberg has made settlement offers from the fund to 15 individuals, and at least three of those have accepted.