General Motors Places Price Tag on Life

Kenneth Feinberg is the lawyer best known for setting victims’ compensation plans for injuries sustained on 9/11, the BP oil disaster, and now GM’s recent vehicle recalls. In other words, he values people’s worth. In June 2014 Mr. Feinberg outlined the detailed strategy that General Motors Co. will follow in making payouts to the injured and families of those killed in accidents linked to Chevrolet Cobalts equipped with a defective ignition switch.

Rhode Island personal injury attorneys are becoming more concerned with the ignition switches on several GM models, including the Chevrolet Cobalt, after it was revealed that they were prone to prematurely shifting out of the “run” position. The shift caused the engine to shut down, eliminating power assist for steering, brakes, and airbags. The defect has since been linked to 31 crashes and 12 deaths in the United States, as well as a fatal crash in Canada.

Individual payouts for injuries and deaths range anywhere from $20,000 to several million, but it is still unknown how much the program will ultimately cost GM. In turn, those who accept a check must waive their right to sue the company. When asked “How do you set the price tag on a person’s life?” Feinberg replied with “What I don’t do, […] is value the moral integrity of any person.” (The Wall Street Journal) Feinberg bases the payments on how much the person would have earned over a lifetime, adding his or her pain and suffering and the emotional distress suffered by the survivors, based on numbers and statistics configured by judges and juries.

According to one Wall Street Journal interview, Mr. Feinberg admits that “There is nothing fair about any of this.” However, he mentions that GM has been very cooperative in setting up a compensation program and that GM Chief Executive Mary Barra has been determined to do the right thing. Mr. Feinberg says he does not know how successful the program will be, as the program’s success depends on how quickly GM can deliver compensation to its victims.