General Motors Co.’s compensation chief for ignition switch accidents paid 130 victims ahead of his Jan. 31 deadline, confirming 51 deaths to date, out of a total of 4,180 claims.
Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, speaking Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Alix Steel, said hundreds of claims were filed in the past few weeks, before GM’s cutoff date, and his final count of the total would be higher.
“We have to catch up with the inventory,” Feinberg said.
More than 450 claims lodged so far have been for deaths and about 3,700 for injuries, he said.
GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, who started the Feinberg program in August, hasn’t tried to influence his assessment of how much money a victim is entitled to, he said.
“She made it clear: ‘Once you start processing claims, Ken, we back off. You make the judgments,’” he said. Handling claims for BP Plc after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he was given a similar independence, he said.
Feinberg wouldn’t say whether the $600 million that Detroit-based GM has set aside for switch accidents is enough.
“Ask them,” he said. “I’m not cutting the checks.”
Each claim approved for payment was backed by proof that the defective switch was the proximate cause of the accident, in the form of police reports, an insurance investigation or contemporary photographs, he said.
Feinberg said he has ruled about 400 claims ineligible and deemed more than twice as many to be deficient in proof. More than a third of all claims came in with no documentation, and he said he’s working with hundreds of people to try to get documents that back up their requests for payment.
No eligible claimants have rejected his settlement offers, he said. While that commits them to giving up their right to sue GM, the automaker will be “subject to litigation” by owners of millions of cars not included in the compensation program, he said.
GM has counted more than 150 court cases filed against it, mostly involving defective switches, and is fighting drivers of as many as 27 million recalled cars in the courts, mostly over fallen car prices.
Two members of Congress have asked GM to extend the deadline in case more people want to apply to Feinberg.
James Cain, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM, said the number of claims filed shows the company has succeeded in reaching potential claimants with “outreach” to drivers, through mailings and media publicity.
(With assistance from Alix Steel in New York.)
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