Source: Milawukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel by Gitte Laasby
The families of the two teenage girls who died in an accident in Wisconsin in 2006 blamed on a faulty ignition switch in a Chevy Cobalt have reached a settlement with General Motors for an undisclosed amount, their attorney announced Thursday.
At least one of the girls — Amy Rademaker, 15, of Woodville in St. Croix County, and Natasha Weigel, 18, of Albert Lea, Minn. — was among the 13 fatalities first acknowledged by GM due to a faulty ignition switch. The switches have been blamed for at least 21 deaths nationwide and led GM to recall more than 2.6 million cars.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel previously reported, the girls died after their 2005 Chevy Cobalt left the road and crashed in St. Croix County near the Minnesota border. The driver, Megan Phillips, 17, survived. An investigation revealed that the air bags failed to deploy. The ignition switch was in the "off" position, which would cut off power to activate the air bags. The girls were not wearing seat belts.
GM later said the ignition in certain vehicles could switch to the "off" position when bumped, when other items were attached to the key fob or when the car drove over bumpy roads, GM has said.
Bob Hilliard, the attorney representing the families of the victims in the Wisconsin accident, would not disclose the settlement amount. He did issue a statement saying the families had accepted the offer made by settlement administrator Kenneth Feinberg, who is negotiating the settlements paid for by GM.
"These offers are within the realm of reasonableness. Given the unknowns including GM's bankruptcy defense, my clients determined it was time to begin and emotionally move away from GM's unforgivable actions," Hilliard said in a statement. "Mr. Feinberg was thoughtful and caring when he met with these folks. He listened to them and talked with them about Amy and Natasha. The process was helpful and healing. He has now made his determination and my clients have accepted."
Ken Rimer, Natasha's stepfather, said in an interview Thursday with the Public Investigator that Feinberg had determined the settlement amount based on a formula, but apologized in a meeting with the families three weeks ago.
"He told us, he says, 'Money is no compensation for the loss of life and the pain and suffering you go through, but unfortunately, with the judicial system, that's all (I) can do,'" Rimer recalled Feinberg saying. "It's a fair compensation. Is it adequate? It's hard to put a dollar amount on a loss of life."
Rimer said that, given that the families weren't sure whether GM would be immune to lawsuits related to incidents before its bankruptcy filing, it was better to settle than to pursue the case in court.
"We felt this was out best opportunity for the hand we were dealt," he said. "What we hoped for was to make GM fess up. They're admitting to their guilt, they're admitting to their liability. That's kind of what we were into it for — and to make them hurt. They hurt us. We thought we could hurt them financially. In the long run, we may have cost them a couple of dollars."
Feinberg said that since Aug. 1 he had received 1,675 claims for serious injuries or deaths allegedly caused by faulty ignition switches. The program will receive applications until Dec. 31 on behalf of people killed or injured in accidents supposedly caused by the faulty switches.