Death toll from GM ignition switches now at 23

DETROIT (AP) – At least 23 people have died and 16 people have been seriously injured in crashes involving General Motors cars with defective ignition switches.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by GM to compensate victims, updated the totals in an Internet posting Monday.

Feinberg says he has received 153 death claims since August. Of those, 23 have been deemed eligible for compensation payments, up from 21 last week.

Sixteen of the 714 injury claimants have also received compensation offers.

GM has acknowledged that it knew about faulty ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars for more than a decade. Yet it didn’t recall them until February of this year. The switches can slip out of the “on” position, which causes the cars to stall, knocks out power steering and turns off the air bags.

Feinberg, who previously handled payments to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill, began accepting claims Aug. 1 and has set a deadline of Dec. 31. He has said that GM hasn’t placed any limit on the amount of money that can be spent on settlements. GM has set aside $400 million for compensation, but says that could grow to $600 million.

Also Monday, the family of a 7-year-old New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, boy who was injured in a crash caused by a faulty switch, accepted a settlement offer from Feinberg. Attorney Robert Hilliard said in a statement that the family of Trenton Buzard, who is now 7 years old, agreed to the undisclosed offer.

The settlement stems from an April 2, 2009 crash in which Trenton suffered spinal injuries that left him paralyzed from the chest down. According to his family’s lawsuit against GM, Trenton, who was almost 2 years old at the time, was strapped into a car seat in a 2005 Cobalt driven by his great-grandmother, Esther Mathews.

As Mathews drove near Knox, Pa., northeast of Pittsburgh, she tried to avoid another car that she perceived was approaching in her lane. But when she tried to maneuver out of trouble, the Cobalt’s faulty ignition switch caused the car to stall and lose power-assisted steering, according to the lawsuit. “This defective condition directly resulted in a loss of power exactly at the time and place where Esther Mathews most needed these essential functions to avoid this collision and/or lessen the impact,” the lawsuit stated.

The right front of the Cobalt struck the other vehicle, killing Mathews and severely injuring Trenton.

Hilliard said the settlement makes sure that Trenton receives medical care and improved mobility and quality of life.

Trenton’s family is the fourth Hilliard client to settle with Feinberg since the first 15 settlement offers went out last week.

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

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