| June 19
June 19 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 of court.
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 plaintiffs' lawyers.
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
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
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
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 court.
"It's taking on GM with all the defenses GM can assert,"
Cooper said. "For many people, that may be a very difficult road
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York and Julia Edwards in
Washington; Editing by Ted Botha and Lisa Shumaker)