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Senate Committee, Feinberg Discuss Fine Points of GM Fund

Tina Robinson2 years ago

In the first panel of today’s Senate hearing on the GM ignition recall, lawmakers and victims’ compensation specialist attorney Ken Feinberg discussed at length the details of the recently announced GM settlement fund. The GM fund is set to begin accepting claims on Aug. 1 and is one option for recall victims seeking compensation.

Feinberg Highlights the GM Victim Fund

Feinberg opened his testimony by listing what he felt are the “highlights” of the fund. Those highlights include:

  • Uncapped compensation: There is no individual limit for claims as well as on the overall fund.
  • GM bankruptcy not a factor: The GM fund applies to victims regardless of whether the injury was sustained before or after GM underwent bankruptcy restructuring.
  • Already settled claims: If a victim or family already received compensation under a previous lawsuit, those claims can be resubmitted and awarded additional compensation if deemed necessary.
  • Driver negligence not a factor: Drivers who were drunk, distracted, not wearing seat belts or other negligent factors are still eligible, as long as the ignition switch can be shown to have been a proximate factor.

He also noted that the GM settlement fund would undergo what he called a “pervasive notice program” to inform any potential victim about the program.

Limitations of the GM Fund

Lawmakers wanted to know what sorts of limitations were placed on Feinberg during his creation of the fund protocol. Feinberg explained that the only limitation put on him by GM was that the fund only includes vehicles covered by the ignition switch recalls announced in February and March. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) expressed concerns over that limitation and urged Feinberg and GM to expand that recall to cover the more than 11 vehicles that were recalled in early June with similar ignition problems.

Another limitation of the fund that lawmakers wanted to know about was the requirement that airbags failed to deploy. According to Feinberg, airbag non-deployment was an indication that the switches failed. Airbag deployment, on the other hand, was a signal that the switch was not a factor. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), however, wanted to know about instances in which the airbags failed to deploy in a frontal-impact crash but then deployed in a subsequent rear-impact crash. Although Feinberg found that scenario “highly unlikely,” he said that he “would like to see that claim.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) also expressed concern that the fund only applied to those who suffered personal injury or death in the recalled vehicles. He noted that a driver who “walks away” from an accident but had their vehicle destroyed still suffered what he considered a loss. Those losses, Feinberg explained, would have to be pursued through litigation and not the scope of his fund.

Assurances of the Fund’s Fairness

Lawmakers also sought assurance from Feinberg that the fund would be fair to those submitting claims. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wanted to know how the fund would handle the numerous younger drivers for whom economic losses might be difficult to determine. Feinberg described the fund’s process for minors and non-wage earners as extensive and explained that claimants can opt for “Track B” resolution. Track B, according to the fund’s protocol, takes into a wider array of factors to create a “tailored” compensation plan.

Other assurances provided by Feinberg included the acknowledgement that pedestrians, backseat passengers, and occupants of other vehicles were eligible to submit claims. He also noted that because some of these accidents happened a decade ago, documentation requirements might be difficult to meet for some. Feinberg said the fund would work with “deficient” claims to meet those requirements. 

Thomas J. Henry Fights for GM Recall Victims

Thomas J. Henry is representing more than 1,000 GM recall victims across the United States and has been investigating injuries and deaths linked to the recall since day one. The firm launched a nationwide media investigation into the recall in April, which brought forth thousands of affected individuals who had information critical to the investigation – information that the firm has handed over to federal agencies also investigating GM’s sluggish response the recall. As more and more individuals have flocked to Thomas J. Henry for representation, the firm has continued to push GM for a victim settlement fund. The firm has had several talks with GM’s victim compensation expert Ken Feinberg regarding appropriate victim compensation for the thousands affected by a fatal design flaw in ignition switches which left numerous dead and countless others seriously injured. 

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