GM Death Toll Hits 19 and is Expected to Grow

The death toll due to faulty ignition switches in General Motors vehicles now stands at 19, and is likely to grow, said GM’s independent compensation expert on Monday. In the months since the massive recalls began, GM has repeatedly said it was aware of only 13 deaths. Kenneth Feinberg, a compensation expert and attorney hired last spring by the company to evaluate claims arising from injuries caused by the defect, released the new, higher figure on Monday. In his first public update, Feinberg also said he continues to move forward in evaluating more of the 125 death claims that have been filed as of last Friday. Feinberg has also identified four victims of crashes who suffered brain damage, paraplegia, quadriplegia, double amputation, or severe burns.

“We’re just now beginning to make the dollar calculations,” Feinberg said in an interview Monday on Bloomberg Television. “We’ll see whether claimant, the victim, or his or her family will accept the money. It’s a little early to be putting dollar signs next to eligible claimants. We’ll know more about that in the next four to six weeks.” GM said in July that it will set aside $400 to $600 million to compensate victims.

Link to Bloomberg report: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-15/gm-recall-death-toll-may-top-125-on-compensation-claims.html

Victim Takes the Blame

Of the 19 fatalities now known (and expected to grow), one was Mikale Erickson, who was killed in a GM car in November 2004. According to a CNNMoney report published September 15, 2014, and first published by the New York Times in May 2014, Mikale was in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s 2004 Saturn Ion when she hit a tree. Candice Anderson, the driver, was seriously injured with broken ribs, a lacerated liver, and head trauma. Mikale, who was only 25 at the time of the crash, died when the airbags did not deploy. Candice, had taken a Xanax the night before the accident and, as a result, was indicted on a felony charge of intoxication manslaughter in 2006. She pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2007. Candice told CNN of the debilitating guilt she has lived with for years since Mikale’s death. But was the accident her fault? Many now think it was not.

According to the CNN report, GM did an internal investigation in 2007 and called the crash “unusual,” noting that the air bags should have deployed. The company, however, did not notify either Mikale’s family or Candice of their findings. GM did not recall the Saturn Ion until February of this year—a decade after the accident.

Mikael’s mother, Rhonda Erickson, contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when she learned of the recalls earlier this year. The NHTSA confirmed that Mikael was one of the 19 deaths now acknowledged by GM. In an interview that appeared Monday on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Rhonda Erickson said of GM, “They let somebody else take the blame for something that they knew at that time was their fault.”

Candice is now trying to get her felony conviction overturned. Leslie Poynter Dixon, the former district attorney who originally prosecuted her, wrote a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommending a pardon after learning of the recalls. “After learning of this information, it is my opinion that no action or omission of Ms. Anderson was the cause of the accident that led to her criminal charges…I feel it is important that, at this point, we come together to do whatever we can to alleviate any further damage and pain that this horrific tragedy caused her,” Dixon wrote.

Watch the video, which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday, here: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2014/09/16/for-a-decade-she-thought-the-crash-that-killed-her-boyfriend-was-her-fault-now-regulators-say-a-faulty-gm-ignition-switch-may-be-to-blame/?hpt=ac_mid

See more of CNNMoneys’s report by Poppy Harlow and Amanda Hobor:
http://money.cnn.com/interactive/news/candice-anderson/index.html?iid=HP_LN

View the district attorney’s pardon request published by CNNMoney here: http://i.cdn.turner.com/money/interactive/news/candice-anderson/documents/DA_Letter_for_Candice_Anderson.pdf

See the New York Times article that first told Candice’s story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/business/13-deaths-untold-heartache-from-gm-defect.html?_r=0

Background

GM has acknowledged that the ignition switches in the recalled cars pose an “increase[d] risk of injury or fatality” to drivers and passengers because the ignition switch may move out of the “run” position during operation. As far back as 2004, as part of GM’s vehicle evaluation program, a GM engineer concluded that the ignition switch on one of the models was so weak and so low on the steering column that a driver’s knee could easily bump the key and turn off the car while in operation. When a car suddenly turns off, it can power down the entire car, which can prevent airbags from deploying, prevent seatbelts from properly locking, prevent the anti-lock breaking system from working, and prevent a driver’s ability to steer.

In 2005, another GM engineer had her Chevrolet Impala shut down on the highway, assessed the cause, and concluded that the ignition switch posed “a serious safety problem, especially if this switch is on multiple programs,” and stated that she was “thinking big recall.” The first recall did not come for nearly another decade.

The massive recall began in February 2014 and has grown to approximately 2.6 million vehicles, many of which remain on the road posing continued dangers to drivers, passengers, occupants of other vehicles, and pedestrians. The recall currently includes 18 different models of GM cars including various Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs.

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