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At least 2.6 million General Motors vehicles have been recalled this year due to defective ignition switches. The dangerous problem has thus far been linked to at least 13 deaths in auto accidents.
Recently, the company designated compensation expert Kenneth R. Feinberg to handle claims from victims involved in these accidents. While there is no cap on the amount Feinberg can dole out, claimants should be aware that the compensation program does have its catches.
Automotive recalls have been major news thus far in 2014, as GM alone has recalled nearly 40 million vehicles for safety issues. As NBC News reports, these recalls have touched nearly every model from the automaker. For perspective, GM has about three dozen models in its line-up. Only three GM models have not been involved in a 2014 recall – and the year is only half over.
The recalls involving faulty ignition switches have received the most attention among the 2014 auto recalls, likely because they have resulted in the most confirmed accidents.
Ignition switches in the recalled vehicles may flip unexpectedly, killing power to the vehicle and making airbags, power steering and power brakes worthless.
GM has linked the problem to 54 crashes and 13 deaths. Others have suggested that there could be more injuries and deaths linked to the switches.
The fund for GM compensation is being managed by Kenneth R. Feinberg, who has also managed compensation for tragedies like the September 11 disaster at the World Trade Center, BP oil spill and Boston Marathon bombing, according to USA Today.
In a recent press conference, Feinberg announced that the fund will receive applications for compensation from August 1 through December 31. He said he hopes the work will be completed by the middle of 2015, and payments will be sent as quickly as possible for those who qualify.
Anyone involved in an accident with a GM vehicle that has since been recalled due to the ignition switch error can apply for compensation. However, Feinberg said, those who were involved in accidents where the airbag deployed will not qualify, nor will those involved in accidents where the airbag would not have deployed anyways (for instance, in side-impact crashes).
Passengers, pedestrians and drivers of other vehicles involved in crashes with these recalled GM models may also apply for compensation from the fund.
While General Motors expects about 90 percent of the claims to be settled through the fund managed by Feinberg, the automakers knows that not all victims will be satisfied with what Feinberg offers. For those that do not accept payment from the fund, a lawsuit is another option.
It is important to note: Those who accept compensation from the fund must agree not to sue GM.
For families who lost loved ones in accidents involving these vehicles, money is the least concern. More than a cash award, they want to know what went wrong, and where GM goes from here.
Feinberg expects to deliver a “full reckoning” to the public once the fund has dispersed monies, outlining all of the claims, a transparency that will hopefully lend itself to greater accountability from the automaker.
General Motors already faces the maximum fine of $35 million for failing to recall the vehicles as soon as a problem was confirmed. This is in addition to the $2.5 billion the company has already spent on fixing safety problems, according to the New York Times.
While money acquired through the compensation fund or a lawsuit will not undo the damage these safety issues have caused, taking action may serve to provide some level of closure to families affected by this vehicle defect.