There have been at least 19 car accident fatalities eligible for compensation because of faulty ignition switches in General Motors cars. GM announced a recall last winter, but has never formally acknowledged either the correct number of fatalities or the number of serious injuries that has resulted from the defective component. This information has come separately, from a spokesperson for the program GM established to handle injury and death claims.
In addition to the 19 fatalities that are now deemed to be eligible for compensation, there are at least 100 additional wrongful death claims under review.
GM has allocated $400 million to pay victims of accidents caused by the faulty ignition switch. So far, a total of 445 claims have been submitted for injuries and fatalities. Based on a formula revealed by the attorney heading up the GM compensation program, death payments could be in the millions of dollars.
The defective ignition switch can cut off power to safety features if the key or ignition is jostled. This means that power brakes, power steering and airbags will not work at all or not work properly.
The compensation program (as opposed to GM itself), recently reported that it had received 58 seriously injury claims involving quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputations, permanent brain damage or significant burns. There have been an additional 262 claims for less serious injuries that required treatment.
Claimants under this program must show that the air bags did not activate in a car accident involving a vehicle from the original 2.6 million older cars. This program does not cover people injured as a result of ignition problems in newer vehicles.
The problem with ignition switches was known for more than a decade, but GM failed to act upon that knowledge.
Anyone who accepts a payment from the program must waive the right to sue the company over the injury or death, a choice that may be difficult for some. Jury awards could be larger if a plaintiff declines compensation from the program and uses the court system to seek justice and compensation. However, a spokesperson for the program indicated that obtaining payment from the program as opposed to seeking an award or verdict through the courts would probably be easier; the standard of proof will be easier to meet outside the civil justice system.
For example, factors such as speeding drunk driving will not be held against a victim who files a claim. Additionally, GM will not invoke the restrictions on claim payments that were part of the company’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization. However, depending on the nature of the claim, plaintiffs may receive more compensation by filing a civil lawsuit.
New York Times, “General Motors Defect Now Faulted in 19 Deaths,” Sep. 15, 2014.