Between August 1, 2014 and January 31, 2015, GM drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or drivers/passengers of other vehicles in crashed caused by the faulty ignition switch could voluntarily submit claims to the GM Compensation Fund.
The fund, administered by attorneys Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros, has no cap on settlements of death and injury claims, but claimants forfeit the right to sue GM if they accept the settlement compensation and sign a release. The Detroit News reports that the fund will pay at least $1 million for each death claim from the $400 million set aside last year. Some sources expect that the final tally will exceed $600 million.
Since the deadline, Feinberg, Biros, and staff have been evaluating the claims. So far, the fund has accepted 84 death claims and 157 claims for catastrophic or serious injuries, according to the Wall Street Journal. The fund has 1,136 claims that are still in the review process.
In addition to the compensation fund expenditures, GM paid an historic $35 million fine to the NHTSA for failing to recall cars with a defective ignition switch. The company could also be liable pending results from investigations being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Transport Canada, and attorneys general in 49 states.
Certainly no settlement can truly compensate for the lost lives or catastrophic injuries, and GM did the right thing by removing a cap on the potential settlements, and I do not want to minimize the victims’ suffering in the least. However, I have to point out that if GM had opted to change the ignition switch back in 2005, it would have cost around $3 million:
2.7 million cars x .90 per part = 2,430,000
+ 400,000 one time tooling cost
That is much, much less than GM is paying to compensate for its error. In most cases, when faced with ethical dilemmas, acting ethically in the short term may seem cost-prohibitive, but in the long term is the only option that makes financial sense, considering the tangible and intangible costs.
Photo credit: St. Croix County Sherriff’s Office (Wisconsin)