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As the filing deadline for General Motors (GM) ignition switch claims rapidly approaches, the auto maker indicates that more than 2,700 people are seeking compensation for injuries, including more than 300 wrongful death claims.
General Motors established a victim’s compensation fund last year to address claims filed on behalf of individuals injured or killed in certain Chevy, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles that were sold with defective ignition switches, which may cause the vehicles to suddenly shut off if heavy keychains are used or if the ignition is jarred. The problems may prevent airbags from deploying in an accident, increasing the risk of severe injury.
A filing deadline for GM settlement claims is approaching on January 31, with the latest update indicating that at least 2,710 claims have been filed as of this week. Among the claims are 202 that involve a catastrophic injury and 303 wrongful deaths.
GM has set aside at about $400 million for the compensation fund, and the auto maker indicates that third-party administrators have already decided to compensate at least 45 deaths, seven severe injuries and about 60 other injury claims. That number is likely to climb as additional claims are investigated, with company officials indicating that more than 700 cases are still under review. The rest have been rejected for being either ineligible or lacking the proper paperwork or documentation to prove their claims.
All of the claims stem from GM ignition switch recalls issued in early 2014, impacting about 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Sky vehicles from model years 2003-2007.
Shortly after the recall was initially announced in February 2014, it was revealed that some in GM had known about problems with the ignition switches for more than a decade, but the company had failed to take action. The company was eventually fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
By year’s end, about 10 million GM vehicles had been recalled due to ignition switch problems, but the settlement fund only addresses those involving the 2.6 million small cars where the company knew there was a problem beforehand.
In addition to claims pursued through the victim’s compensation fund, a growing number of GM recall injury lawsuits are being filed against the auto maker in state and federal courts nationwide. Many of those claims involve similar injuries associated with other recalled GM vehicles that are not part of the compensation fund, as well as claims for diminished vehicle values, investor losses and injuries or deaths that plaintiffs have elected not to pursue through the settlement fund.
Since June, all claims filed against General Motors throughout the federal court system have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, as part of a Multidistrict Litigation, or MDL. The cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts..
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the federal court system, Judge Furman has established a bellwether process for scheduling a series of GM ignition switch trials in the MDL, with the first case expected to go before a federal jury in January 2016.