Victims' families first to accept GM settlement

GM compensation: First settlement offer accepted

Two Wisconsin families have become the first to accept settlement offers from the GM Ignition Switch Compensation Fund.

Margie Beskau, the mother of Amy Rademaker, has agreed to accept a payment from General Motors in exchange for agreeing to drop all legal claims related to the death of her daughter in a Chevy Cobalt in 2006.

"No amount of money can bring my daughter back," Beskau told CNBC. "But I'm ready to be done with this."

Margie Beskau, of Woodville, Wis., talks about her teenage daughter, Amy Rademaker
Amy Forliti | AP

Ken and Jane Rimer, whose daughter Natasha Weigel was killed in the same accident say the settlement allows them to move forward.

"Was it a fair settlement?" asked Ken Rimer when discussing the settlement. "For what GM settled other cases for in the past it's probably not fair. But we've accomplished what we wanted to do. This is a way to hold GM responsible for the errors it made."

The families' attorney, Bob Hilliard, declined to give the amount of the settlements. Hilliard did say the offer was, "within the realm of reasonableness."

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The parameters set up by attorney Ken Feinberg, who is overseeing the compensation fund, call for the families of those killed in certain defective GM vehicles to receive at least $1 million plus $300,000 payments to surviving spouses and children. In addition, Feinberg and his team will calculate the economic value of the life that was lost.

Settling instead of going to court

Beskau says a primary factor in her decision to drop a wrongful death lawsuit against GM and agree to settle is the likelihood the automaker would use bankruptcy protection to limit its exposure. Since the accident that killed 15-year-old Rademaker and 17-year-old Weigel happened in 2006 before GM declared bankruptcy, the automaker could have invoked a shield it was given in bankruptcy absolving it of any legal responsibility for accidents that occurred before entering Chapter 11 reorganization.

"We just felt we'd come out better financially and emotionally if we went ahead and settled," Beskau said. "There was no guarantee we would win, so this seemed like the right decision to make."

Beskau's daughter Amy was riding in the front seat of a 2005 Chevy Cobalt in October 2006 when the car lost power, went off a rural Wisconsin highway and slammed into trees.

While Hilliard filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Minnesota he says GM would likely have pushed to have the case heard in Wisconsin where wrongful death awards are limited to $750,000.

"Given everything involved, settling with GM was the right decision," Hilliard said.

Death claims

Attorney Feinberg's firm has extended informal settlement offers for 15 of the 850 claims filed with the compensation fund since August. People who were hurt or families of those killed in defective GM vehicles have until December 31 to file claims. So far, Feinberg and his team have deemed more than 40 claims as being eligible for settlements. Formal compensation offers will be extended in the next seven to 10 days.

GM has not put a cap on how much it will pay out to those injured or killed in accidents involving 2.6 million vehicles with defective ignition switches. The automaker has estimated the compensation claims will eventually cost the more than $400 million.

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CNBC reached out to General Motors for a comment regarding the first settlement, but we have not heard back from the automaker.

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