GM ignition switch death toll reaches 19, could go higher

General Motors' 'switchgate' scandal has slipped out of the headlines recently, but it continues to unfold. Ken Feinberg, an attorney appointed to review claims for the automaker, has now linked 19 deaths to the flawed ignition switches -- up from the 13 that GM admitted for months -- and that number could creep higher.

Paul Sancya/AP/File
The General Motors logo is on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

When we look back on 2014, the automotive story of the year will almost certainly be the huge number of recalls -- particularly, those from General Motors, intended to fix faulty ignition switches.

Though the "Switchgate" scandal has slipped out of the headlines for now, it continues to unfold. The latest chapter involves compensation claims filed by vehicle owners and their loved ones.

As you might remember, GM began accepting those claims on August 1. The company set no cap on payouts, and it gave attorney Ken Feinberg complete authority to review claims, determine eligibility, and assign compensation sums. According to the Associated Press, Feinberg has now linked 19 deaths to the flawed ignition switches -- up from the 13 that GM admitted for months -- and that number could creep higher.

To date, Feinberg has received 125 wrongful death claims from GM owners and/or their families. He hasn't said whether the 19 fatalities linked to the ignition switches include the 13 already acknowledged by GM, nor has Feinberg indicated how many claims have been rejected, though it appears that some have been turned down for technical reasons of eligibility.

We do know, however, that GM owners have until December 31 to file their claims, so over the next three-and-a-half months, we would expect the number of applications to the compensation fund to climb. Unfortunately, it's likely that the number of associated deaths will, too.

Feinberg's spokesperson, Camille Biros, has also confirmed that 320 claims associated with injuries have been filed. Of that number, 12 have been approved to date. It's unclear which sorts of injuries those 12 applicants sustained, but Biros acknowledged that a sizable number of claims -- 58, to be precise -- involved serious injuries like amputations and permanent brain damage. 

In related news, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration heads to the U.S. Senate today to discuss ways that his agency and others can improve response time on recalls. We'll keep you posted as these stories progress.

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