The number of deaths linked to General Motors’ defective ignition switch has risen again — to 23, according to figures posted Monday by the program set up to compensate victims.
The program, overseen by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the victim compensation specialist, is sending its first letters with payment offers to more than 30 families that have filed death and injury claims, said Camille Biros, the deputy administrator of the program.
The family of a Pennsylvania boy who was gravely injured in an 2009 accident that killed his great-grandmother and 13-year-old aunt said Monday that it would accept the program’s offer, although it would not divulge the amount of the award.
A week before his first birthday, the boy, Trenton Buzard, was riding in his car seat in the back of a Chevrolet Cobalt driven by Esther Matthews, 73, his great-grandmother, when it collided with an oncoming vehicle in Knox, Pennsylvania. The air bags did not deploy, and Matthews and her granddaughter, Grace Elliott, 13, were included in GM’s initial estimates of 13 deaths linked to the ignition switch defect, which can cause a moving car to suddenly lose power, disabling air bags and impeding power steering and brakes.
GM has acknowledged that some of its engineers knew about the problem for more than a decade before the company disclosed it publicly this year and began recalling 2.6 million cars.
Trenton spent four months in a pediatric intensive care unit and has been in and out of the hospital since. Today he is paralyzed from the waist down and moves about in a wheelchair or by using his arms to drag his body.
His father, Robert Buzard, a truck driver, said that the payment would give the family peace of mind.
“I feel a lot better knowing that we are not going to have to struggle to help Trenton live his life as normally as possible,” Buzard said in an interview. “I never knew if I could buy him that $80,000 wheelchair van or the lifts and the chairs that the insurance company wouldn’t cover. It is a relief.”
“But,” Buzard added, “it doesn’t give back the things he has lost. It doesn’t take back what has happened. It doesn’t make everything right. It’s still wrong.”
Trenton, now 6, attends kindergarten with a nurse. He loves sports, his father said, and spends hours watching football and wrestling on television or playing simulated games on the Xbox video console. At recess, his classmates give him a football and push his wheelchair to the end zone, his father said.
“He wants to run like the other kids and score touchdowns like them,” Buzard said. “That is forever gone.”
Thirty-nine claims have been determined to be eligible for payments from the company. As of Friday, the program had received 867 claims, including 153 for deaths. Biros said that the fund had officially rejected about 40 of the total claims. The others were still under review, most of them awaiting more evidence that the faulty ignition switch was a factor in the crash.