Six weeks after it began accepting applications for claims related to accidents involving faulty General Motors vehicles, the victim compensation fund has made this determination: There are 19 eligible claims for a person who died in a defective GM vehicle-and that number is likely to go higher.
"There will be more than 19," said attorney Ken Feinberg, who is overseeing the fund. "How many more is speculative."
Feinberg and his staff released the first set of numbers outlining how many claims have been filed on behalf of victims injured or killed in 2.6 million recalled GM vehicles. So far, the fund has received 445 claim applications, with 31 of them deemed eligible for payment. Feinberg said there are 414 more that have not been rejected.
"We've received these claims. Some of them are woefully inadequate, no documentation, no signatures, no correct addresses. We are not rejecting the claims," Feinberg said. "The remainder are currently being processed and we are working with the claimant to firm up those claims."
For months, as the faulty ignition switch recall saga continued to grow, General Motors maintained only 13 fatalities were related to the faulty cars. It was a claim safety advocates and lawyers routinely questioned as being far too low.
After Feinberg released his initial report on Monday, General Motors issued a statement saying, "We have previously said that Ken Feinberg and his team will independently determine the final number of eligible individuals, so we accept their determinations for the compensation program."
The automaker will not increase the number of fatalities it officially attributes to the switch based on the number of death claims Feinberg finds eligible for compensation, according to GM spokesman Dave Roman. The fund will continue to accept claims through the end of the year.
Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra told CNBC she has not talked with Feinberg and his staff since he set the criteria for payment of victim claims. She also said in the interview that "change has already happened" at GM, which is known for its troubled corporate culture.
Critics of GM and its handling of the faulty ignition switches have said for months that the automaker has been too quick to dismiss the gravity and scope of the defect. Kaitlin Wowak, an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the latest data support that argument.
"This new information reinforces that GM may not have been as forthcoming as we would have hoped about how serious the defect was and how not responding was a major mistake," Wowak said.
Meanwhile, Feinberg and his staff have begun meeting with victims and their families. How much each victim will receive remains to be determined. Feinberg said he and his staff will not negotiate. If a settlement offer of several million dollars is made in a particular case, Feinberg said the victim and/or their family will have to accept it or reject it.
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In June, Feinberg said GM would offer at least $1 million to the families of victims who died because of the ignition switch defect.
"We've laid out the formulas that we will use," he said. "If you want the money, sign. We have an arrangement, I'll send the money. If not you can sue."
-By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Reuters contributed to this report.
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