By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A program to compensate victims of crashes linked to a faulty ignition switch in General Motors vehicles has received claims for 107 deaths as of Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman for the lawyer overseeing the program.
Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Kenneth Feinberg, told Reuters that the 107 deaths were among 309 claims that have been submitted so far. The program began accepting claims on Aug. 1 and will remain open until Dec. 31.
Before a claim is deemed eligible, it will be evaluated by Feinberg and his staff to determine whether the ignition switch was in fact responsible for causing a serious physical injury or death. If so, Feinberg will determine how much compensation to award.
The number of death claims submitted already far exceeds the 13 deaths that GM has officially attributed to the switch, which prompted the recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier this year.
Jere Beasley, a lawyer representing multiple people who have submitted claims, said the pace for filing claims seemed slightly slower than initially expected, in part because lawyers may be waiting to see how much compensation will be offered for certain claims before bringing new ones. In addition, waiting also allows time to gather evidence to determine whether certain accidents could be eligible before submitting claims.
Determinations on eligibility for claims will be made within 90 to 180 days after they are submitted, Feinberg said in June when he announced the program.
Feinberg previously said he expected the highest volume of claims within the first few months of the program, as well as its last.
Robert Hilliard, a lawyer representing hundreds of people who are either suing GM in court or filing claims with the program, said he anticipated the number of claims would grow steadily.
GM has set aside $400 million to cover compensation through the program, although the amount of total payouts is not capped. Under the program's protocol, eligible claims for deaths linked to the switch will likely be awarded at least $1 million, which could increase, depending on factors like whether the deceased had children or other dependents.
People submitting claims will not waive their right to sue GM unless and until they accept an offer from the program.
Feinberg will make all determinations on eligibility and compensation, GM has said. A spokesman for GM, Jim Cain, said the company is allowing the process to continue at arm’s length.
Feinberg has overseen compensation programs for victims of other high-profile catastrophes, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the BP oil spill in 2010.