At least 19 deaths linked to faulty GM cars

The number of people killed by faulty General Motors cars now stands at 19, significantly higher than the 13 deaths previously disclosed by the automaker.

Nineteen death claims have been found eligible for the GM compensation fund that's administered by attorney and compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg. That figure appears likely to rise, with fund deputy administrator Camille Biros telling CBS MoneyWatch that she expects the fund to approve additional eligible claims as the effort continues to sort through the 445 applications it has received so far.

natashaen091514glor3.jpg
Natasha Weigel
CBS News

Among the dead is 18-year-old Natasha Weigel, who was killed in 2006 inside a Chevy Cobalt in rural Wisconsin. GM had not linked her death to a defective ignition switch until today, when Feinberg released his first report, reports CBS News Jeff Glor.

"We always knew all along that was the cause of the accident," said Ken Rimer, Natasha's father told CBS News. "It's not closure for us, but at least it's a step in the right direction."

The discrepancy in the number of deaths attributed to GM's ignition-switch defect raises questions about whether the automaker had downplayed the impact of the deadly glitch. Biros said the fund is using a "much more liberal standard" for eligibility than what GM took into account, with its efforts including what she called "all types of evidence and information."

GM didn't immediately return a request for comment. Biros said the fund had disclosed its findings to the automaker. "They said, 'Oh, okay,' and listened," she said.

The fund is now reaching out to the claimants to let them know about their eligibility for compensation, which will vary according to the specifics of each claimant, such as age and income history. She declined to comment on the size of the settlements. Claimants "were pleased that we found their claim eligible," she added.

The fund, which hasn't capped payouts to victims, also found four cases eligible for "category one" physical injuries, which result in serious harm such as permanent brain damage, amputation or quadriplegia. Eight cases were approved for category two claims, which include physical injuries that required hospitalization within 48 hours of the accident.

Biros added that GM wasn't involved in the process of deeming which claims were eligible. But some have criticized GM for the parameters it created when it set up the fund to include only certain makes and models of cars, such as Chevrolet Cobalts from 2005-2007 and Saturn Ions from 2003-2007.

One attorney told CBS MoneyWatch that he believes the Chevrolet Camaro should have been included, given a 2013 recall for a defect that causes the key to switch out of the "run" position. On the face of it, the problem sounds similar to the ignition-switch defect that the fund is addressing, when some cars switched to the "accessory" mode if a key ring was too heavy or the vehicle hit a bump.

"We were really shocked the Camaro wasn't included, and there was no explanation as to why," said attorney James Amaro, who is representing the estate of a 21-year-old student who was killed in a 2010 Camaro. "We realize it's not up to [Feinberg.] It looks like this compensation is more about PR than wrongful conduct."