(Reuters) – The compensation fund for victims of General Motors Co’s defective ignition switch will be open to a broad range of people and should finish its work by the end of the second quarter of next year, the attorney in charge of the fund said.
Kenneth Feinberg, in an interview ahead of Monday’s announcement on how the fund will operate, said he had no idea how many people would file claims or whether the number of deaths linked to the faulty switch would rise from the 13 GM has identified.
Claims on the fund can be filed for five months starting Aug. 1, he said.
In February, GM began recalling 2.6 million older-model cars, including Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, linked to the defective switch, which can be jarred out of the run position and deactivate power steering, power brakes and air bags.
Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra previously said the fund was intended to compensate “every single person who suffered serious physical injury or lost a loved one” as a result of the bad switch. She also has said Feinberg, the architect of compensation funds for victims of high-profile catastrophes including the Sept. 11 attacks, would determine who was paid and how much, and there would be no cap on the payout.
Details of the compensation program began to emerge during congressional testimony by Barra on June 18 and in subsequent interviews with plaintiffs’ lawyers.
However, Feinberg declined to speculate how many claims would be filed or how many deaths may end up being linked to the faulty switch, something GM said he would ultimately determine.
“I don’t know about 13 or 50 or whatever,” he said. “I will not speculate until people file a claim.”
During the hearing, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado suggested there could be as many as 100 deaths linked to the faulty switch.
Feinberg also declined to estimate how big the ultimate payout could be. Safety advocates have called on GM to create a fund of more than $1 billion.
Feinberg identified several factors that would not prevent someone from filing a claim, including driver negligence. Other factors that would not prevent the filing of a claim also include whether an accident occurred before GM’s 2009 bankruptcy filing and whether people had previously settled claims with the No. 1 U.S. automaker.
However, if someone accepts compensation, they would waive the right to sue GM.
While Feinberg expects to wrap up the fund by the end of June, it would remain open as long as needed to process claims.
The filing period, which ends Dec. 31, provides “ample time to come up with the documentation to corroborate their claim,” Feinberg said. However, it is shorter than the time GM is taking to repair all the affected cars as the Detroit company has said it expects to have most of the cars fixed around October.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Bernard Orr)