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Wrongful Death Claims Over Recalled GM Vehicles Likely To Continue to Rise

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The number of confirmed wrongful death claims associated with accidents that may have been caused by recalled ignition switches used in General Motors (GM) vehicles has risen to 29, but officials indicate that the number is expected to continue to rise as the manufacturer processes claims over the next year. 

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by the auto maker to administer a General Motor’s settlement fund established for injuries and deaths that have occurred in recalled Chevy, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles, indicates that there may be a spike in accident claims later this year, due to an approaching deadline for the program

The claims stem from problems with faulty ignition switches that may prevent the vehicle airbags from deploying, as the car may be suddenly shut off if heavy keychains are used or if the ignition is jarred, such as may occur in an accident.

According to a report by Bloomberg News, Feinberg is reviewing about 150 more wrongful death claims involving recalled GM vehicles, with the official tally only being updated based on cases that have been approved for payments.

Feinberg has previously announced that GM settlements will start at $1 million for families of individuals who died in an accident linked to defective ignition switches. In addition, the company has agreed to pay estimated lifetime earnings and $300,000 to a spouse and each dependent.

The GM ignition switch victim compensation fund was launched in August and is aimed at settling claims linked to about 2.6 million vehicles recalled worldwide in February due to defective ignition switches. While GM has reserved $600 million to pay accident and wrongful death claims, many suggest that this amount will not be nearly enough.

GM Recall Lawsuits

In addition to claims pursued through the settlement fund, a growing number of GM recall lawsuits are being filed nationwide through the court system, alleging that the auto maker knew about problems with their vehicles, yet failed to take action to correct the problems or recall the vehicles.

Some estimates suggest that more than $10 billion in damages are currently being pursued against General Motors over defective ignition switches.

Cases filed throughout the federal court system have been consolidated and centralized in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which are being overseen by District Judge Jesse Furman. All claims allege that GM knew about the ignition switch problem but failed to warn consumers and investors, and that the company put out defectively designed vehicles.

In an October 7 court order (PDF), Judge Furman has indicated that he plans to hold a series of bellwether trials over the GM recall, which will serve as test cases to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that could be repeated throughout the cases.

Plaintiff and defense attorneys have been given until October 31 to submit a proposed bellwether order, which lays out how they think those test cases should be handled and when. That order will likely be discussed at an upcoming status conference before Judge Furman on November 6.

At the time the litigation was centralized, fifteen actions pending in six different districts were consolidated to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges on the same issues and to serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the courts.

According to an update (PDF) provided by the U.S. JPML on October 15, there are currently at least 119 total cases included in the MDL. In addition, as GM lawyers continue to review and file cases, it is ultimately expected that several thousand lawsuits may eventually be centralized before Judge Furman.

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Image via Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

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