Any compensation process set up by General Motors for victims of faulty ignition switches is sure to have a scope far beyond the 35 crashes and 13 deaths that the automaker has linked to the defect.
GM's acknowledgment of the defect, which triggered a recall of 2.6 million small cars, has raised questions about whether a flimsy ignition switch could have played a role in any unexplained crash involving those vehicles over the past decade.
That's likely to complicate the work of Kenneth Feinberg, the victim-compensation expert GM has hired, as he sorts out which of the thousands of crashes that occur every year involving Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars covered by the ignition switch recall could be connected to the problem, and which victims are in line for compensation.
Through 2012, the most recent data available, 1,752 people died in crashes involving the cars covered by GM's recall, according to a federal database of traffic fatalities. While only a small fraction of those deaths are likely related to the ignition switch, each could present an opportunity for a victim's family to place some blame on GM and seek compensation.
For a reminder of this risk, Feinberg need only look back to his time administering the $20 billion BP oil spill fund, when numerous lawsuits accused him of fraudulently delaying or denying claims, while BP complained that his proposed settlements were too generous.