64 of first week's 113 filings were for deaths

Victims' claims for GM compensation pour in

64 of first week's 113 filings were for deaths

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More than half of the 113 applications submitted in the first week of General Motors’ compensation program for victims of its faulty ignition switch were death claims.

Sixty-four claims were filed on behalf of people who died in crashes allegedly caused by the defective part, said Camille Biros, deputy administrator of the program being overseen by victim-compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg, in an interview this week.

Ten claims were from people seeking payment for a catastrophic injury -- a traumatic brain injury, burns or paralysis, for example. The other 39 were from people claiming less severe physical injuries, Biros said.

The 113 claims were filed Aug. 1-7.

GM already has estimated that it will pay $400 million to $600 million to victims through the Feinberg review. Feinberg has said there is no limit on the number of claims that will be paid or the total amount that GM will pay.

It’s too early to know how many of the submissions could result in payments, Biros said. Most simply filed a claim form and planned later to submit the documentation necessary to show that the defective switch was the “proximate cause” of the accident, such as police reports or data from a black box recorder.

Most of the claims were filed by attorneys who submitted applications on behalf of multiple clients, Biros said.

“Some of the serious cases that I’ve looked at seem very, very well-documented in terms of what we need,” she said. “But that doesn’t necessarily imply eligibility.”

Montgomery, Ala., attorney Jere Beasley says he submitted nine claims to Feinberg’s office: three death cases, three catastrophic-injury claims and three less severe injury claims.

“It’s sort of a test run to see how the fund is going to be administered and how they will deal with eligibility, the proximate cost and the amount,” Beasley said. He has more claims to file on behalf of clients, he said.

Some attorneys and safety advocates have complained about the proximate-cause requirement, which puts the onus on victims to prove that the ignition switch was the primary cause of the accident. The switch, used mostly in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars from the mid-2000s, can inadvertently slip out of the run position, disabling power brakes and steering and the airbags.

Beasley, who says he dealt with Feinberg when he was administering the victim-compensation fund stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill, says he believes Feinberg “is not going to be overly harsh on the probable cause.”

As of late last week, none of the 113 cases was deemed “substantially complete,” the point at which Feinberg can decide whether the case is eligible for compensation and determine how much money will be paid.

The claims process will remain open until Dec. 31. Feinberg has said it’s likely to be at least the spring before all eligible claimants are paid.

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

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