A program established by General Motors to compensate the families of people killed and those severely injured in accidents caused by defective ignition switches received 445 claims and approved 31 in its first six weeks of operation, the law firm running the program reported Monday.

Of the claims approved, 19 involve deaths related to the crashes – six more than GM had previously acknowledged, the law firm reported. Four are to compensate people left with permanent conditions, including paralysis, severe burns and brain injuries. Eight are for physical injuries that required hospitalization or outpatient medical treatment within 48 hours of an accident involving an ignition switch.

The flow of claims has not been as fast as what was anticipated by the law firm of compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg, which the automaker hired to design and administer the compensation program.

“The filing has been a bit slower than expected, but it is steady,” said Camille Biros, business manager for Feinberg Rozen, which is overseeing the day-to-day operation of the fund. “Each day we receive new claims.”

Biros said a dollar figure has not been set for the 31 approved claims. The remaining 414 claims are under review or are awaiting more documentation – a number that she said is not unusual for compensation funds of this nature.

“It is definitely pretty standard,” Biros said of the claims that require more documentation. At first “you would get bits and pieces of what you are requiring.”

Accident victims have until Dec. 31 to file a claim with the fund, meaning the number of approvals is all but sure to increase.

GM is offering to pay up to several million dollars to survivors of those killed or those injured in the accidents caused by faulty ignition switches in the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars no longer in production; the defective switches were installed in 2.6 million cars.

The flaw, which GM acknowledged it knew about for more than a decade before ordering recalls earlier this year, caused cars to inadvertently shut off, stiffening steering and brakes and causing air bags not to deploy.

Feinberg, who has administered compensation money after such catastrophes as the 9/11 attacks and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, designed the GM program and has final say over who receives what amount. In regulatory filings, GM said it has set aside $400 million to compensate victims, although the fund is not limited.

GM’s handling of the ignition-switch defect has sparked a series of investigations, including inquiries by both chambers of Congress and an ongoing inquiry by federal prosecutors in New York.

The company has paid a $35 million fine imposed by federal auto safety regulators and is facing scores of lawsuits, including those from accident victims who have chosen to eschew the compensation fund, shareholders and owners of GM cars who say their vehicles have lost value because of the problem.

The scrutiny brought by the ignition-switch recall has caused GM chief executive Mary Barra to revamp the company’s safety protocols, resulting in more than 50 recalls this year that involve nearly 30 million vehicles. The company has set aside more than $3 billion to pay for the recalls.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.