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Although General Motors (GM) has indicated that it believes 16 deaths and about 60 other serious injuries may have been caused by defective ignition switches in millions of Chevy, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles, reports suggest that more than 100 death claims have already been filed with a victim compensation fund established by the auto manufacturer.
Since it began in August, the GM settlement fund has received at least 309 claims regarding injuries and deaths that were allegedly caused by ignition switch problems, where the vehicles may suddenly shut off, preventing airbags from deploying, when heavy keychains are used or if the ignition is jolted, such as may occur in an accident.
About 2.6 million vehicles were impacted by GM ignition switch recalls issued in February as a result of the defect, and additional claims are expected over the coming months, as additional applications will be accepted until December 31, 2014.
Federal safety regulators and consumer groups have long suggested that GM’s estimated number of accidents and deaths was low. Those predictions are playing out, with at least 107 death claims submitted during the first month of the program.
General Motors has faced substantial criticism since the recalls, as investigations have revealed that the automaker knew about the ignition defects since at least 2002, but failed to act to protect public safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fined GM $35 million for its actions.
GM hired investigators to conduct an independent review, which confirmed that the company had failed to protect public safety, and said the problems were the result of a “pattern of incompetence” that permeated the company.
Amid a re-examination of safety issues by the company, GM has actually recalled nearly 20 million vehicles this year due to ignition switch problems.
While a victim’s compensation fund has been established for accidents linked to certain defects, the company is continuing to fight claims brought on behalf of some victims injured in vehicles sold before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization, arguing that the “new GM” should not be liable for problems caused by the old company.
A number of plaintiffs have pushed ahead with lawsuits against the company despite the creation of the fund, including claims by those who say they were economically damaged by the company’s actions, and those who were injured or lost loved ones in recalled vehicles not included in the compensation fund.
A growing number of GM recall lawsuits have been filed by those claiming economic damages from the faulty ignition switches. In early June, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued an order consolidating all economic lawsuits against GM under U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman in federal court in New York for pretrial proceedings.