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Deaths linked to GM ignition-switch defect rise to 23

A recalled Chevy Cobalt ignition switch is seen at Raymond Chevrolet in Antioch, Illinois, July 17, 2014. REUTERS/John Gress

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - The number of deaths linked to a faulty ignition switch in General Motors Co (GM.N) cars rose by two last week to 23, according to a report Monday from the lawyer overseeing a program set up to compensate accident victims.

Since Aug. 1, 867 claims for compensation for serious injuries or deaths said to have been caused by the switch had been received by the program, which is being overseen by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg. That is up from 850 last week.

As of Friday, 23 death claims had been deemed eligible, as well as 16 claims for serious physical injuries, according to updated statistics provided by Feinberg’s office. Last week, those numbers were 21 and 16, respectively.

The program will continue to receive applications until Dec. 31 on behalf of individuals injured or killed in accidents they say were caused by the switch. The problem with the switch can cause it to slip out of position, stalling the vehicle and disabling air bags. The fault led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier this year.

In the initial update after the program's launch, Feinberg’s office reported approving 19 death claims, more than the 13 deaths the U.S. automaker had officially acknowledged. As of Friday, a total of 153 death claims had been submitted to the program, up from 150 previously.

GM executives have said Feinberg will determine how many people are eligible for compensation under the program and that the fund has not been capped.

Under the program’s protocol, eligible death claims will receive at least $1 million, which could increase depending on factors such as whether the deceased had any dependants. GM has set aside $400 million to cover the compensation costs, and said the total could rise by another $200 million.

Feinberg's office said last week it has made the first cash offers to about 15 people. At least three families so far have accepted settlement offers from the program, including the family of Trent Buzzard, a two-year old boy who was paralyzed from the chest down in an April 2009 accident involving a 2005 Chevy Cobalt, according to a lawyer for the family, Robert Hilliard.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by Peter Galloway)