Trials & Litigation

GM hires disaster master Ken Feinberg as auto recall grows; he will look at victim compensation

Amidst a recall of some 2.6 million compact vehicles to fix a faulty ignition switch and questions about why the recall didn’t happen earlier, the CEO of General Motors told a congressional panel Tuesday that the automaker has hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to help evaluate possible options for compensating accident victims.

The faulty switches, which could disable the vehicles’ airbags, are blamed for 31 accidents and 13 fatalities, according to the Detroit Free Press and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Although the company is not liable for injuries prior to July 10, 2009, when it emerged from bankruptcy, CEO Mary T. Barra told the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that GM has retained Feinberg and will “work very hard to do the right thing for our customers.”

Questions have also been raised about why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t do more to address complaints of ignition-switch problems that reportedly go back at least a decade.

It is expected to take one to two months for Feinberg to evaluate the situation and report to GM leaders. He is known for his work helping compensate victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks and Boston Marathon bombing, among other disastrous incidents.

“GM has civil and legal responsibilities,” Barra said during her testimony. “We are thinking through exactly what those responsibilities are.”

The night before her appearance before the House panel, Barra met privately in Washington, D.C., with 22 survivors of accident victims at the request of attorney Robert Hilliard. The Texas lawyer has filed a class-action against GM on behalf of a number of families.

“These folks told her about their losses, and everyone in the room got a chance to speak,” Hilliard told the Times. “It was pretty raw and emotional.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Master of Disasters: Is Ken Feinberg Changing the Course of Mass Tort Resolution?”

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