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GM launches compensation program for crash victims

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DETROIT (AP) - General Motors plans to launch a program to compensate crash victims or families affected by an ignition switch problem that is linked to at least 13 deaths in crashes of older GM cars.

The company said it expects the program will start accepting claims Aug. 1, but didn't specify how much money will be involved. Guidelines and other details will be developed in the coming weeks by compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, GM said.

GM has recalled 2.6 million older small cars to repair the ignition switches. A report issued Thursday said it took GM more than a decade to issue the recall partly because employees improperly viewed the switch defect as a "customer satisfaction" issue instead of a safety problem.

GM announced the hiring of Feinberg in April. He previously handled the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund as well as funds for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill.

Feinberg told The Associated Press that the timeline means "I have my work cut out for me." During the next few weeks, he said he'll speak with plaintiff's lawyers, lawmakers, public interest groups and GM officials.

"I'll propose some ideas based on my experience that will form the basis for a ... compensation program," he said.

CEO Mary Barra said Thursday morning that the report by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas found a pattern of incompetency and neglect, but not a cover-up, at the heart of the Detroit automaker's long delay in dealing with the faulty switches.

Barra said the company would "do the right things for those who were harmed" and "everything in our power to make sure this never happens again."

The internal investigation and Barra's remarks don't deter Lance Cooper, a Georgia-based personal injury attorney who represents victims suing GM.

Cooper said in a statement that documents produced in one lawsuit show that GM opted not to fix the safety defects in cars "for cost reasons."

"This is why it is critical that the civil cases move forward so that the American public may learn the whole truth, not just the truth GM chooses to disclose," he said.

Feinberg said he's been focused on his task, not the investigation, so he can't comment on the latter's findings or how they might affect those suing GM.

"That's up to them - it's a voluntary program I'm establishing," he said. "The alternative is protracted litigation."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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