Aug. 11, 2014
CBS MoneyWatch - In the first days of General Motors' (GM) compensation fund for victims of its faulty ignition switch, 135 claims have been filed, with almost half of the claims for alleged deaths.
Sixty-five of the claims are for deceased claimants, Camille Biros, a spokeswoman for fund manager Kenneth Feinberg, wrote in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. Another 70 claims are for physical injuries, although the fund is "not in a position at this time" to provide additional insight about how many of those claims are eligible for compensation, she added.
The number of death-related claims far outpace the 13 deaths so far attributed to the ignition-switch defect, which can turn a car's ignition to the "accessory" mode if they are bumped or a key ring is too heavy. That raises questions about whether the automaker has undercounted the number of fatalities linked to the faulty part.
In a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it believes "it's likely that more than 13 lives were lost."
GM didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Still, Biros stressed there is "no correlation, and none should be drawn, from the number of claims 'received' to the number of claims that will ultimately be deemed eligible."
The next step for the fund is to review the claims on whether each has sufficient information. Once a claim has enough information to review the claim, the fund will move forward to determining eligibility, she added.
"As you can imagine there will be a number of claims submitted for a non-eligible vehicle, etc," Biros wrote.
At a Senate hearing last month, Feinberg said the program doesn't have a cap on compensation, but will limit payouts to claims linked to eligible vehicles and those who suffered from an air-bag deployment failure, which indicates the ignition-switch defect was to blame.
While at least 13 people have died in accidents linked to the faulty part, CBS News in March reported that another death might also be linked to the switch. A 29-year-old nurse named Brooke Melton died four years ago in a crash, after she had complained to a GM dealership that the engine in her Chevy Cobalt had shut off while driving. When her car crashed, the engine wasn't running, and the ignition switch was in the accessory position.
In June, GM chief executive Mary Barra said the company had fired 15 employees and disciplined 5 others over a failure to disclose the problem. She blamed "misconduct and incompetence" for the delayed recall. The U.S. Transportation Department in May fined GM $35 million for safety violations related to the defective ignition switches.