By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A program to compensate victims of a faulty ignition switch in General Motors <GM.N> vehicles has approved three new death claims, bringing the total number of deaths linked so far to the switch to 27, according to a report released on Monday by the lawyer overseeing the program.
Since it began accepting claims on Aug. 1, the program has received a total of 1,371 claims for deaths and injuries, according to the report by the office of Kenneth Feinberg, who GM has tapped to run the program. The report listed all of the claims received and approved as of Friday.
GM has faced criticism this year for waiting 11 years to begin recalling millions of cars with ignition-switch problems that were linked to fatalities.
The switch can slip out of position, stalling the vehicle and disabling air bags, and the defect led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier this year.
So far, 52 claims have been deemed eligible for compensation, including the 27 deaths and 25 injuries, the report showed.
Overall, the number of claims received for injuries and deaths was up more than 21 percent from 1,130 last week, according to the report. The rise is attributable in part to 13 new death claims, bringing the total number of death claims received by the automaker to 178, and to a continuing uptick in the number of claims for less serious injuries – those that require hospitalization but do not cause serious permanent damage – from 886 to 1,108.
The program will continue to receive applications until Dec. 31 on behalf of individuals injured or killed in accidents they say were caused by the switch problem.
GM has given Feinberg, who has overseen compensation programs for high-profile catastrophes such as the 9/11 attacks and Deepwater Horizon oil spill, free rein to determine eligibility criteria under the program and to approve or reject claims. The amount of compensation has not been capped, but GM has set aside at least $400 million to cover the costs.
Under the program's protocol, eligible death claims can expect a payout of at least $1 million or more, depending on whether the deceased had any dependents or any other "extraordinary circumstances" applied.
Once claims are approved, Feinberg’s office makes cash offers to the eligible claimants. At least three families so far have accepted the awards, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers.
(Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis)