GM expert says 21 deaths eligible for compensation

DETROIT (AP) – The death toll from crashes involving General Motors small cars with faulty ignition switches is at least 21.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by the company to compensate victims, said Monday in an Internet posting that he received 143 death claims as of Friday, and 21 of those have been deemed eligible for payments.

A spokeswoman said the rest of the claims are under review and not all will be eligible. The death toll rose from a week ago, when Feinberg had determined 19 claims would get payments.

The website also said that Feinberg received 532 injury claims as of Friday. Of those, 16 are eligible for compensation thus far. The others are still being reviewed.

The defective switches can unexpectedly move to the “accessory” or “off” positions, shutting down the engine and knocking out power steering and brakes. With engines shut off, people can lose control of their cars and crash. If that happens, the air bags won’t inflate.

GM has admitted knowing about the problem for more than a decade in small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. Yet it didn’t begin recalling the 2.6 million small cars until February.

For months, the company said at least 13 people died in crashes linked to the faulty switches, but GM acknowledged that the death toll would go higher. Some lawmakers have estimated that it’s close to 100.

Feinberg has said GM has not limited the total amount he can pay in compensation. GM has estimated the cost of compensating victims at $400 million, but says it could rise to $600 million.

A Feinberg spokeswoman said Monday that his office is in the process of sending out letters telling people how much money he is offering. Those filing claims can reject Feinberg’s offer and seek compensation through lawsuits.

Feinberg won’t identify those getting payments, citing confidentiality agreements. 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.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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