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Death toll from GM ignition switches rises to at least 51

DETROIT — More than 1,100 claims were filed in the week before Saturday's deadline to seek payments from the General Motors ignition switch compensation fund. So far, 51 death and 77 injury claims have been granted.

But the fund's deputy administrator says the grants are very likely to rise as she and her boss, compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, sort through at least 4,180 claims that came before the deadline passed.

The last-minute flurry of activity is common in compensation cases, said Deputy Administrator Camille Biros, who has worked with Feinberg on funds for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill. Although most of the claims were filed electronically, some will "trickle in" in the coming days because they were postmarked by the Jan. 31 deadline, she said.

"I can say that there will likely be more" death and injury claims granted, Biros said. "Until we sort through and review the newly submitted documents, we can't make that estimation."

GM was aware of faulty ignition switches on Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars for more than a decade, but it didn't recall them until 2014. On 2.6 million of them worldwide, the switches can slip out of the "on" position, causing the cars to stall, knocking out power steering and turning off the air bags.

As of last week the fund had rejected 386 claims, most because the cars involved were not models covered by the fund or because the air bags inflated in the crashes. If the air bags deployed, that means the cars had power and the ignition switches were working and not at fault, Feinberg has said.

It likely will take until late spring for Biros and Feinberg to sort through all of the claims, she said.

GM has set aside $400 million to pay claims from the fund. Families and victims who take compensation from the fund must agree not to sue GM. The company has said the cost could rise as high as $600 million.

Biros said the fund has paid about 40 claims so far, but she would not estimate the value of those claims.