DETROIT – The death toll tied to faulty ignition switches in General Motors small cars has risen to 19, according to a compensation expert hired by the company. The number is likely to go higher.
Kenneth Feinberg said Monday that he has determined that 19 wrongful death claims are eligible for payments from GM. General Motors' estimate of deaths has stood at 13 for months, although the automaker acknowledged the possibility of a higher count.
Feinberg received 125 death claims due to the faulty switches in older-model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. The rest remain under review or require further documentation, he said in a report issued Monday.
"The public report is simply reporting on those eligible to date," Feinberg spokeswoman Camille Biros said in an email. "There will certainly be others."
GM has admitted knowing about the ignition switch problem for more than a decade. Yet it didn't begin recalling the switches in 2.6 million small cars until earlier this year. The automaker hired Feinberg to compensate victims of crashes caused by the switches, and Feinberg has said GM has not limited the total amount he can pay. Some lawmakers have estimated the death toll is close to 100.
Biros, citing confidentiality agreements, said Feinberg will not identify any of those eligible for payments, nor will he say if the 19 deemed eligible so far include the 13 deaths that GM has documented. GM has not identified the 13 victims. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has not tallied the total number of deaths.
Biros said no claims have been rejected yet, although Feinberg is in the process of turning down a few because they don't meet the requirements for compensation. Feinberg will issue reports each Monday on how many claims have been granted, she said.
Feinberg also has received 320 claims for compensation due to injuries. Of those, 12 have been deemed eligible for payments so far.
Of the injury claims, 58 were in the most serious category, seeking compensation for injuries resulting in loss of use of limbs, amputation, permanent brain damage or pervasive burns, the Feinberg statement said. Another 262 claims are for less-serious injuries that required hospital stays or outpatient medical treatment within 48 hours of the crash.
The deadline for filing a claim is Dec. 31. Feinberg will follow formulas to determine how much people will get, and they can demonstrate circumstances to him that would bring more money. Claimants can wait until he comes up with an amount before deciding whether to sue GM or take the money.
GM has estimated the cost of compensating victims at $400 million, but says it could rise to $600 million.
The faulty ignition switches can slip out of the "run" position into "accessory" or "off," cutting off power to the engine. That can knock out power steering or brakes and disable the air bags if there's a crash.
The ignition switch problem triggered a companywide safety review that has resulted in 29 million GM vehicles being recalled through August.
Despite persistent bad publicity for much of the year, GM's sales haven't been significantly harmed by the spate of recalls. GM's U.S. sales are up 2.8 percent through August. U.S. auto sales overall have risen 5.1 percent during the same time.
GM dealers have been able to convert customers who come in for recall repairs into new-car buyers when they see renovated dealerships and the company's new vehicles, GM North American President Alan Batey said Monday in an interview. Many customers are first-time GM buyers, having bought used cars in the past, he said.
General Motors shares rose 43 cents to $33.70 per share in afternoon trading.