Deadline Extended for G.M. Accident Claims

Posted on 11/18/14

in The News

The families of people killed or injured in crashes involving General Motors cars that had a deadly ignition switch defect will have an extra month to submit claims for payment under G.M.’s victim compensation program.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, who administers the compensation fund, has decided to extend the deadline to Jan. 31 to give more time to families who might not be aware of the program.

The extension comes a week after The New York Times revealed the identity of Jean P. Averill, who was killed in a 2003 crash of a Saturn Ion at the age of 81. Hers was the earliest fatality G.M. connected with the ignition defect. Until informed by The Times, the family had not known of the company’s compensation program or that it was eligible to receive a minimum of $1 million from the fund. At that time, the family said it had never been contacted by the automaker.

Mr. Feinberg said the decision to extend the deadline was not influenced by the “unfortunate failure to notify the Averill family,” but was rather intended to give more time to the hundreds of thousands of people just receiving notices about the program.

G.M. is sending out about 850,000 letters to new owners and registrants of used vehicles as well as people who did not receive notices because the addresses on file were incorrect. The company said notices had already been sent to more than 4.5 million current and former owners of affected cars.

Mr. Feinberg emphasized that the decision to extend the deadline came out of an abundance of caution. “I think it’s highly unlikely that there are many people who don’t know about this program by now,” he said.

G.M. supported the decision. “We agreed with Ken Feinberg’s recommendation to extend the compensation program deadline,” said James R. Cain, a G.M. spokesman. “Our goal with the program has been to reach every eligible person impacted.”

Although G.M. has recalled about 16.5 million vehicles this year for ignition-related flaws, the compensation fund relates specifically to a pool of about 2.6 million cars that were recalled starting in February, including models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

Officials at the automaker knew about problems in the cars for more than a decade, but failed to alert regulators and the public until this year. The cars have a defective ignition switch that can suddenly cut off engine power and deactivate airbags.

There is evidence that years before issuing recalls, G.M. was aware of ignition issues in other cars with eerily similar problems, including the Impala, but accidents involving those vehicles are not covered by the fund.

Mr. Feinberg, who has created compensation funds for victims of the World Trade Center attacks and the Boston Marathon bombings, was hired by G.M. in the spring to run the program. In total, the fund has received 2,105 claims, including 217 for deaths.

Camille Biros, Mr. Feinberg’s deputy, said by telephone that 33 death claims had been found to be eligible for compensation payments. That is more than double the 13 fatalities G.M. originally linked to the ignition switch defect. The families of four of the original 13 victims have not yet submitted claims, Ms. Biros said.

Thirty-nine injury claims have been approved, including five for catastrophic injuries that resulted in conditions like quadriplegia. Thus far, the program has made 40 official compensation offers. Of those, 28 have been accepted by families, who waive their right to sue G.M. as part of the compensation agreement.

The fund has denied 205 claims, many of which involved vehicles not covered by the program or accidents in which airbags clearly deployed.

Ms. Averill’s relatives have said they are considering filing a claim. They have also said they have considered suing G.M., but the company has protection from litigation involving incidents that occurred before it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. That protection is being challenged in court.