December 10, 2015 by Tom Krisher - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DETROIT – Lawyers hired to compensate victims of General Motors’ faulty ignition switches have paid out $594.5 million to settle 399 eligible claims.
The numbers were released Thursday in a final report from compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg.
A total of 4,343 claims were filed with the GM fund. Only 9.2 per cent were deemed eligible for payments, including claims for 124 deaths and 275 injuries.
The fund says more than 90 per cent of the offers it made were accepted. Camille Biros, the compensation fund’s deputy director, has said that the claims that were rejected “couldn’t support any connection to the ignition switch.”
The switches in older model small cars such as the Chevy Cobalt can slip out of the “run” position and cut off the engine. They have been linked to crashes that caused at least 169 deaths.
The ignition switch scandal triggered a companywide safety review that resulted in dozens of recalls of millions of vehicles. GM says it has made safety a priority and now is catching problems sooner to avoid large recalls. The company said in September that the recalls cost it over $5.3 billion. Since then, it has paid out another $1.6 billion to settle U.S. criminal charges and recall-related related lawsuits, bringing the total cost to about $6.9 billion.
The fund’s final report says that it paid 128 claims from crashes that happened before GM emerged from bankruptcy in July of 2009, which the company was not required to do. A bankruptcy judge has ruled that the new company that emerged from bankruptcy is shielded from such claims.
Despite the settlements, GM still faces costs from the recalls. In its most recent quarterly report filed with U.S. regulators the company said it still faces 217 wrongful death and injury lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada, as well as 122 lawsuits alleging that the recalls reduced values of owners’ cars.
GM spokesman Jim Cain said the Feinberg compensation fund was fair, compassionate and non-adversarial to crash victims and their families. “We faced the ignition switch issue with integrity, dignity and a clear determination to do the right thing both in the short and long term,” he said in a statement.