GM ignition-switch death toll rises to 42

General Motors on Monday raised the death toll related to its defective ignition switches to 42 as it weighs compensation claims following its long-delayed recall of millions of cars.

As of Friday, there were four more deaths eligible for compensation than a week earlier, said Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney in charge of the independent compensation fund set up by GM after recalling 2.6 million cars over the ignition-switch problem since February.

Feinberg announced 251 death claims had been filed, and of those 34 were under review.

All types of claims received by the fund totaled 2,326. Seven claims for crippling injuries such as brain damage or double amputation were deemed eligible, out of 156 filed.

Fifty-one out of 1,919 claims for hospitalization or outpatient medical treatment were eligible.

The fund began accepting claims on August 1.

In mid-November Feinberg extended the year-end deadline for filing claims by a month, to January 31, citing “an abundance of caution” as GM tries to reach all possible owners of the recalled vehicles, models sold from 1998-2011.

GM will pay a minimum $1 million for the victim, $300,000 for the surviving spouse and another $300,000 for each surviving dependent.

Financial and medical treatment compensation of at least $20,000 will also be offered to those with eligible physical injury claims from an accident.

GM set up the program earlier this year after acknowledging the faulty ignition switch could turn off power to a car’s power steering and safety airbags while it is in motion.

The company knew about the problem for a decade or more, but only took recall action beginning in February, after hundreds of possible accidents and deaths in the affected cars.

GM is under investigation by Congress, regulators and the Justice Department over why it waited more than a decade after first uncovering the ignition-switch problem to start recalling cars.

Lawyers for many victims have already filed a number of class-action suits that could cost the company far more than its promised payouts under the compensation program.

But the program offers victims the promise of earlier payouts, if they give up their right to sue once their compensation claim has been accepted.