Feinberg announces how GM switch victims will be paid

Feinberg announces how GM switch victims will be paid

Feinberg announces how GM switch victims will be paid


by James R. Healey, USA TODAY


Posted on June 30, 2014 at 11:56 AM

(USA TODAY) -- The fund is open claims for injury or death, in any country, involving the switch recall cars, including people in other vehicles involved in crashes with those recalled cars. If the car's not included in the ignition switch recalls in February and March, "forget it," he said.

Feinberg has set up a website for the fund, and a toll-free phone line. He's also sending letters to the current registered owners of the 2.6 million recalled vehicles. A million former owners will get letters, too, a result of suggestions by the Center for Auto Safety.

The only other no-limit, sole-discretion fund run by Feinberg like the one he's running for GM was the one for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said that one paid out $7.1 billion in taxpayer's money and that 97% of 3,077 claims were settled by the fund. The rest chose to seek better deals in court.

Other high-visibility compensation funds he's handled include ones for victims of the BP oil spill, Boston Marathon bombing and Virginia Tech campus shootings.

The GM compensation payments, in most cases, will hew to a matrix like the one he designed for the 9/11 fund. "It's not rocket science," he said, because it's based on U.S. Bureau of Labor calculations of economic loss from human tragedy.

Special circumstances will be evaluated individually. One of those he's expecting involves a woman whose GM car crashed, killing her boyfriend who was a passenger. She was fined for felony reckless driving.

"For 10 years she's been living with the idea that she recklessly killed her boyfriend. I find that's a rather extraordinary circumstance," that should be evaluated outside the fund's formula, he said.

Passengers in these GM cars can apply for compensation regardless of whether they were in front seats, which should be protected by airbags, or in back, where there may be no airbags.

Carelessness, intoxication or other "contributory negligence" by the driver or passengers will be ignored, Feinberg said. "Intoxication, speeding, texting with your cell phone -- irrelevant. This fund will not look in any way, shape or form at the negligence," he said.

People who've already settled claims with GM, before the switch recall, can seek more money, he said. If they qualify, the award to them will be in addition to what GM already paid, but reduced by the amount already paid.

People who accept Feinberg's compensation agree not to sue GM. But people who already are suing, or considering it, should file a claim anyway, Feinberg said. "It is, in effect, a free preview. File your claim and see what will be done with it, then you can always continue to litigate" if it seems unsatisfactory.

Three categories of claims will be compensated: Deaths, catastrophic injuries and less-serious injuries.

Most death claims will be based on the Labor formula that uses considers a person's age and income before the accident. To that amount, Feinberg adds $1 million for pain and suffering, which he said is higher than the average court award of $750,000 for pain and suffering, plus more if the death leaves behind a spouse or children.

Examples of death compensation payments under the Feinberg math:

    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 victims are defined by the fund as those who, as a result of crashes linked to the GM switches, are quadriplegic, double amputees, permanently brain damaged and requiring continuous care or pervasively burned over their entire bodies. Those victims can be paid more than death cases.One example:

    10-year-old parapalegic, who will need care for many years: $10.8 million.

Victims who claim lesser injuries will be paid according to how long they were hospitalized, starting at a few thousand dollars. Claimants have to have gotten verified treatment by a doctor or hospital within 48 hours of the accident. "Don't send me wheelbarrows of medical records. I only need to know you were treated within 48 hours," he said.

Payment examples:

    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.

Feinberg has set up what he calls a "menu" of ways people can provide evidence the faulty switch caused their crash. They needn't prove the switch was faulty. "Not absolutely, positively, but more probable than not that the ignition switch failed, then they've satisfied the burden" of proving a legitimate claim for compensation, he said.

Once the fund closes, Feinberg said, he will provide "a full reckoning, an audit for the public. What claims were approved, what ones denied, and why."

Feinberg said he will meet, at their request, with any victims or families whose claims involved deaths or catastrophic injuries.

He's learned from previous fund cases that, "These people do not come to see me to talk about money. They want to vent: 'Why my daughter, Mr. Feinberg?' Unless you have a heart of stone, it's really difficult.

"A law degree in a problem like this is probably irrelevant. A divinity degree, maybe."

The fund's FAQ and official protocol document are below:

GM victim plan FAQ

GM Victim Plan Final Protocol