Claims attorney Kenneth Feinberg unveils the compensation fund for victims of the General Motors Co. ignition-switch defect.
Claims attorney Kenneth Feinberg unveils the compensation fund for victims of the General Motors Co. ignition-switch defect. (Photo: Andrew Ramonas/NLJ)

Victims of the General Motors Co. ignition-switch defect may participate in a compensation fund established by the automaker only if they agree not to sue, claims attorney Kenneth Feinberg said Monday in unveiling the program in Washington.

The unlimited fund is open to all individuals who can prove the defect injured them or killed a family member, Feinberg said. Victims and their families, however, cannot seek punitive damages in the courts if they agree to accept compensation through the fund.

“This program is designed to help claimants,” Feinberg told victims’ family members and reporters gathered for a news conference. “This program is not designed to punish General Motors. If people want punitive damages, if they want to use litigation to go after General Motors, then voluntarily they should not submit a claim to me.”

To receive compensation, individuals must show that an airbag didn’t deploy in crashes involving Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other GM cars from model years as early as 2003. And GM won’t withhold money from people who were at fault for a crash because of intoxication or speeding, for example.

GM, which will process claims between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, has recalled 2.6 million vehicles this year because of the defect, which can shut down engines, disabling power steering, airbags and other functions. The automaker has acknowledged that 13 individuals died in accidents in which airbags failed.

Feinberg didn’t indicate how many claims GM expects to pay or how much money the automaker expects to hand out in total. But he said individual payments could range from $20,000 to millions of dollars, depending on the injury.

“GM may not challenge it in court,” Feinberg said. “GM may not reject it.”

Contact Andrew Ramonas at aramonas@alm.com.