emerge about GM plan to pay ignition-switch victims
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[June 20, 2014]
By Jessica Dye and Julia
(Reuters) - General Motors
Co. may end up compensating many more people than the
families of 13 victims it has linked to a faulty
ignition switch, as it considers waiving key legal
defenses in order to resolve injury and death cases out
Details of the compensation program, while still not final, began to
emerge during congressional testimony by GM Chief Executive Officer
Mary Barra on Wednesday and in subsequent interviews with
Barra said the program, expected to be announced by July, will not
reject claims based on a previous settlement with GM or the
company's bankruptcy status at the time of the accident.
Plaintiffs' lawyers said they also believe driver negligence would
not be an obstacle to claims.
On Wednesday, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado
suggested during the hearing there could be as many as 100 deaths
linked to the faulty switch, which has prompted a recall of 2.6
million vehicles since February. GM has so far acknowledged 13
fatalities in connection with the defect.
A spokesman for DeGette said her estimate comes from private
interviews with GM employees and other individuals close to the
matter, conversations with investigators from the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration and access to GM documents given to
her staff and the House committee.
Plaintiffs' lawyers say that besides fatalities, there may be many
more victims with serious injuries who could also bring claims.
Barra told Congress the compensation program, to be managed by
lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, would begin accepting claims by Aug. 1. She
said the program was intended to compensate “every single person who
suffered serious physical injury or lost a loved one” as a result of
the switch, and Feinberg would have "full authority" to determine
how much each claimant was paid.
Feinberg has been discussing possible eligibility criteria for the
program with lawyers representing crash victims and their families.
One of those lawyers, Robert Hilliard, said Thursday that victims
would not be required to waive their right to sue GM unless they
accepted a payment and signed a release through the compensation
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A spokesman for GM, Jim Cain, said that Feinberg would determine the
protocol for accepting and administering claims.
The preliminary details that have emerged about the compensation
program would require GM to waive several defenses it could have
used if claims were brought in court. One of those defenses would be
the terms of GM's exit from bankruptcy in July 2009, which shield
the company from liability for accidents prior to that date.
An attorney representing some crash victims, Lance Cooper, said that
victims or their families who choose not to participate in the
program would face the daunting prospect of going up against GM in
"It's taking on GM with all the defenses GM can assert," Cooper
said. "For many people, that may be a very difficult road to
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York and Julia Edwards in
Washington; Editing by Ted Botha and Lisa Shumaker)
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