April 1 (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Tuesday it has hired Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer widely known for administering funds to compensate victims of high-profile disasters and accidents, to help assess its options for dealing with victims harmed by recalled vehicles.
Several consumer groups and at least one U.S. lawmaker, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, have called on GM to set up a trust fund to cover losses suffered by victims and families affected by the ignition switch defect, which is linked to at least 13 deaths and has prompted the recall of more than 2.6 million vehicles.
GM is shielded by its 2009 bankruptcy, which protects the so-called new GM from liability for accidents occurring before July 2009. It may also be protected from lawsuits over older accidents by statutes of limitations, which set limits on how long plaintiffs have to file suit.
GM chief executive Mary Barra announced Feinberg's appointment during testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee Tuesday. Under questioning by lawmakers Barra said no decision has been made about establishing a trust fund. The company said in a statement that Feinberg will "explore and evaluate options" for responding to victims.
In a statement provided by GM, Feinberg, the founder and managing partner of law firm Feinberg Rozen, said he will weigh the company's options in an "independent, balanced and objective manner based upon my prior experience." He could not be reached for comment.
Feinberg is no stranger to GM. In 2009, he served as the White House's "pay czar," setting limits on executive compensation at companies that were rescued with taxpayer money. GM was among them.
The following is a look at some of his best-known work with victims' compensation funds:
- Sept. 11 attacks: Feinberg was tapped as special master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, set up to compensate victims of the deadly 9/11 assault. The fund distributed more than $7 billion to the survivors of 2,880 people killed in the attacks and 2,680 who were injured, according to a report from Feinberg.
- Virginia Tech shootings: after 32 people were shot and killed at the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, Feinberg was tapped to help distribute donations to affected victims and their families. The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund distributed approximately $8 million, according to its website.
- Aurora, Colorado theater shootings: Feinberg was appointed to distribute funds to victims of a deadly 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The Aurora Victim Relief Fund, which received more than $5.3 million in donations, distributed funds to 38 individuals injured in the attacks, as well as the families of 12 people who were killed.
- BP oil spill: BP Plc set up a $20 billion claims fund for people and businesses affected by the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Feinberg was appointed to handle claims. Before the fund was discontinued in 2012, Feinberg oversaw payments to approximately 221,000 claimants, totaling about $6.1 billion.
- Boston Marathon bombing: Feinberg, a native of Brockton, a Boston suburb, was called upon to administer funds to the victims of the deadly Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013. That fund has since collected nearly $61 million, and distributed payments to more than 230 individuals, according to the fund's website. (Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; editing by Eric Effron and G Crosse)