GM Switch Fatality Claims May ‘Spike,’ Feinberg Says

Confirmed deaths tied to General Motors Co.’s defective ignition switches have risen to 29 and may rise as new claims are filed before the December deadline set by the automaker, according to Kenneth Feinberg, who is handling payments related to the controversy.

Feinberg, an attorney at Feinberg Rozen LLP in Washington, spoke today with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop.”

“At the end of the year there’ll probably be some spike” in accident claims, he said. “We may have to process late claims into 2015.”

The rise in payment demands will probably start earlier, with a “flood” after Thanksgiving as GM customers realize the deadline is coming up, he said.

He recently counted about 150 more fatality claims already under review, he said. His death count is based on cases approved for payment.

GM is reserving as much as $600 million to pay accident claims. Some lawyers have said that’s not enough.

“Based on how it’s going, it would appear that the reserves will be adequate,” Feinberg said.

The number of fatalities tied to the switch defect has more than doubled from initial company estimates, based on claims approved so far by GM’s compensation program. The fund represents the carmaker’s effort to settle rather than litigate lawsuits over faulty vehicle parts.

GM has said it faces more than 150 suits with demands for money for accidents or lower prices for cars with defects, and a proposed class action filed this month over value losses on 27 million recalled cars this year seeks $10 billion in compensation and damages.

1,500 Claims

Feinberg has received about 1,500 claims, and he is working with people who filed about half of them to try to verify that the accidents resulted from switches, he said. Customers are being asked to send photographs, black-box data or whatever evidence they have, as he tries to find supporting material, he said.

The first claims were accepted Aug. 1.

An internal investigation this year showed that GM for at least a decade failed to promptly resolve complaints from consumers, dealers and others about abnormal crashes in the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion, and that the company later replaced the faulty ignition switch without alerting the public or changing the part number as required.

The defective switches may be inadvertently shut off when jarred, cutting power to the engine and deactivating air bags.

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