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GM announces initial death toll from ignition flaw

Total injuries more than 400

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DETROIT – Ken Feinberg, the attorney overseeing a compensation fund for victims of GM cars, has so far linked 19 deaths to a serious flaw with the automaker's ignition switches.

That's more than the 13 deaths General Motors has said were tied to the problem, which went unreported for a decade, years after company engineers discovered it.

Overall, Feinberg has received 125 claims for deaths and 320 for injuries in the five weeks he has been up and running. Of those, he has found 31 eligible for compensation. Most of the remainder are still under review.

Claims received:

Deaths: 125
Category 1: 58
Category 2: 262

Claims determined eligible:

Deaths: 19
Category 1: 4
Category 2: 8

A "category 1" injury is described as physical injuries resulting in quadriplegia, paraplegia, double amputation, permanent brain damage, or pervasive burns that result from the ignition switch defect.

A "category 2" injury is a physical injury requiring hospitalization or outpatient medical treatment within 48 hours of the accident resulting from the ignition switch defect.

The families of those who died in the vehicles are eligible to apply for $1 million in compensation from the fund, plus an estimate of the victim's future earning potential. Those families must agree to not sue GM. Its 2009 bankruptcy provided a liability shield from many lawsuits, and a federal judge is deciding how that will apply to ignition switch claims.

Link: GM Ignition Compensation site

Feinberg was hired by General Motors to oversee the fund but has stressed his independence from GM management in deciding who is eligible for compensation. He told CNN in June there is no cap on how much GM may have to pay out to victims through the program. He has previously overseen funds for victims of 9/11, the Gulf oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Claims will be accepted until the end of the year, and his office said he will likely not finish reviewing them all until the middle of 2015.

Listen: Kenneth Feinberg on deaths linked to GM recalls

GM engineers first knew of the flaw a decade ago, but the company publicly acknowledged it for the first time in February. It has now recalled 2.6 million cars related to the problem.

Drivers of certain small Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn cars can inadvertently bump the ignition switch out of run, disabling the power steering, anti-lock braking, and airbags.

Greater scrutiny to GM's handling of vehicle issues led to a stream of recalls; the company has issued 65 this year for a total of nearly 30 million vehicles.

GM commissioned a former federal prosecutor to conduct an internal investigation. Anton Valukas found no evidence of a broad cover-up or conspiracy within GM, but faulted "a pattern of management deficiencies and misjudgments," CEO Mary Barra said.

Complete coverage: GM ignition switch recall investigation