General Motors ignition assembly parts, including the parts affected under the recalls, being inspected, packaged and shipped Thursday, April 17, 2014 at the GM Customer Care & Aftersales Plant in Burton, Michigan. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)Enlarge Photo
For more than a year, Ken Feinberg and his team have had the grim task of sorting through thousands of claims against General Motors, all of which allege that the company's faulty ignition switches led to injury or death. The last claims were filed on January 31, and now, nearly seven months later, Feinberg has finished assessing them all.
When we last checked on the GM Ignition Compensation Fund in December, some 2,326 claims had been filed. Of that number, 100 had been approved, 306 had been denied, and the remainder were either being reviewed or set aside, pending the submission of additional information.
By February 1, the number of claims had skyrocketed to 4,343. Of that total, 474 blamed the ignition switches for a fatality; 289 said that the components had resulted in serious injuries like amputations, brain damage, or quadriplegia; and 3,580 claimed other injuries resulting from the switches.
After a grueling vetting process, Feinberg and his staff denied most of those claims. In all, 3,944 of the 4,343 were judged ineligible for compensation. Per the Fund's website, there are no appeals.
However, 399 claims were approved. Of that number:
Though GM had put no cap on the Fund, the automaker estimated that it would make around $400 million in payouts. Feinberg hasn't released the total sum to be paid to claimants, but we know that death claims carry a $1 million payout, plus $300,000 for surviving spouses and dependents. That alone could easily run between $250 and $300 million. Add in injuries, some of which will require lifelong treatment and care, and GM could near its top-end estimate of $625 million.
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And of course, GM will continue to fend off claimants in the courtroom. Anyone accepting a payout through the Fund is "required to execute a release of all present, past, and future claims against GM and all other potential defendants arising out of the Ignition Switch Defect prior to receiving any money". However, those that have been denied can still take their cases to court. True, a judge may look unfavorably on a plaintiff who lost her claim with the Fund, but you never know.