General Motors has hired compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to help determine how much, and how little, victims affected by the faulty ignition switches will receive. The fund for victims will begin accepting applications August 1 and will close on December 31. Feinberg (who has run similar compensation funds for the victims of September 11 and the Boston Marathon bombings) hopes to finish distributing payments by the middle of the next year. His goal is to complete valid, simpler claims in 90 days and more complicated claims within 180 days.
The total fund does not have a limit, nor is there a limit on payments to individuals. Feinberg explained on Monday that "There's no aggregate cap. It's not as if General Motors is putting up X dollars and telling me, 'Spend it wisely because that's all there is.'" Feinberg also has the final say on all claims. "GM delegated to me, at my full and sole discretion, to decide which claims are eligible, and how much money they should get. There are no appeals (by GM or victims). Once I make the decision, that's it."
For the issue of airbags, there is an automatic disqualification. If the airbags inflated during the crash in question, "you're not eligible. But if the airbag didn't deploy, it could have been the switch," Feinberg explained. "If the airbag didn't deploy, or you don't know if the airbag deployed, file a claim."
General Motors will set up a website, and a toll-free number to deal with the claims. They will also reach out to owners of the recalled vehicles. There are three main types of claims: death, catastrophic injury and less serious injury.
For death claims, Feinberg adds additional funds for pain and suffering, as well as living heirs. Age is also considered. Here are some examples of death compensation payments (all examples via USA Today):
- 17-year-old student, no wages, no dependents: $2.2 million.
- 25-year-old earning $46,000 a year, married, two children: $4 million.
- 40-year-old, earning $75,000 a year, married, no children: $5.1 million.
Catastrophic injury claims – those left quadriplegic, amputees, permanently brain damaged, severely burned, or in need of constant care — will receive the largest payments. These payments will be even larger than death cases. Here is an example of this claim:
- 10-year-old parapalegic, who will need care for many years: $10.8 million.
For less serious injuries, payment will be determined based on the length of hospitalization. Feinberg made it clear that he only needs proof that the driver or those in the car were treated within 48 hours of the crash; the entire medical history is not needed. Here are some sample payments GM will be dishing out for these claims:
- One night in a hospital: up to $20,000
- Two-to-seven nights: $70,000
- 34 days' hospitalization for extensive treatment of broken bones, head injuries: up to $500,000.
In an interesting twist, the fund will not consider intoxication or other negligence by the driver when reviewing the claims. "Intoxication, speeding, texting with your cell phone — irrelevant. This fund will not look in any way, shape or form at the negligence," Feinberg said.
For those who file a claim and take the payment, they will agree not to sue General Motors, though Feinberg urges everyone (even those considering a lawsuit) to file a claim.