By: Allan M. Siegel
GM released a significant update when it raised the official death count from 13 to 19. These deaths occurred as a result of GM's defective ignition switches cutting power to the airbags and the power steering causing drivers to lose control and crash. This update is significant because it took lawyers for injured parties over a decade of numerous legal battles just to get GM to admit to the deaths of 13 victims.
One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Bob Hilliard, says that, "we still think, that when all is said and done, the number of deaths attributed to the switch based on the compensation fund and other lawsuits will be in the hundreds." This compensation fund is currently overseen by attorney Kenneth Feinberg. He is an independent compensation expert that was hired by GM to determine which claims will be paid by the fund.
The compensation fund has already received 445 potential claims, 19 of which are death claims and 12 are personal injury claims. GM currently has put $400 million into the compensation fund, but more may be needed as new death and personal injury cases are discovered. Through the fund, each victim will be individually compensated for his or her injuries, and each death case will receive an additional $1 million. Feinberg expects that the first payout will be distributed before Thanksgiving.
The battles still wage on in court, however, as plaintiffs' attorneys are claiming that GM committed fraud when it filed for bankruptcy in 2009. At the time of the filing, GM was required to disclose any knowledge of the defective ignition switch or any litigation pertaining to the defect. Meanwhile the Department of Justice and the Senate and House committees are still investigating how the defect was handled and if any further reforms or sanctions will be required.