GM extends ignition compensation deadline to Jan. 31
Washington — The administrator of the General Motors ignition switch compensation program said late Sunday the fund would extend the deadline for submitting claims until Jan. 31, 2015, because the Detroit automaker is sending notices to 850,000 owners this week.
The Detroit automaker said it supported the move.
"We agreed with Ken Feinberg's recommendation to extend the compensation program deadline. Our goal with the program has been to reach every eligible person impacted," GM spokesman Jim Cain said late Sunday.
Feinberg, the independent administrator of the fund, said in a statement he thought many efforts to notify all eligible claimants have been largely successful. GM has already sent notices to 4.5 million people, targeting all current and prior owners of the eligible vehicles.
The fund was established by GM to compensate those hurt or killed because of defective ignition switches that can allow the key to turn off the car accidentally, disabling power steering and air bags.
The decision came after GM and Feinberg faced increasing pressure on Capitol Hill and from safety advocates to extend the program, in part because one of the 13 initial fatalities linked to the ignition switch defect didn't learn they were among those linked by GM until earlier this month.
The one month extension is being implemented "out of an abundance of caution," Feinberg said, "and because supplemental notice is being mailed this week by GM to approximately 850,000 newly registered owners and to those individuals for whom a change in registration, change of address or corrected address has been received."
"I believe that the many efforts to reach all possible GM automobile owners, former owners and others who might have been adversely impacted by a defective ignition switch have been both comprehensive and effective," Feinberg said. "There will always be some individuals who do not receive formal notice and are generally unaware of available compensation. But such individuals appear to be very few in number.
"Because of our determination to provide comprehensive notice and give each claimant an opportunity to file a claim in a timely manner, we have decided to extend the filing deadline an additional 30 days until January 31, 2015."
Late Sunday, a spokeswoman for the fund said it has now approved 33 death claims, up one over the last week, and another four injury claims to 39. That's more than double the 13 deaths GM initially connected to the issue. Fund spokeswoman Amy Weiss also confirmed that families of four of the original 13 death claims connected by GM haven't filed claims yet.
The fund has now received 2,105 claims, including 217 for deaths, up another 14 percent over the previous week, including 15 additional deaths About 10 percent of the claims have been rejected, mostly because they were for ineligible vehicles.
The New York Times reported the extension earlier Sunday.
Last week, the fund said it approved two more death claims and four more injury claims last week. That raised the number of approved death claims to 32, and the number of approved injury claims to 35. GM initially said 13 deaths were linked to the ignition switch defect.
The fund has made 11 cash payments and 40 total offers — and 28 have been accepted, deputy fund director Camille Biros said last week.
GM has said it expects to spend $400 million on claims, but has said they could rise as high as $600 million.
The fund will pay at least $1 million for each death claim, along with $300,000 payments to surviving spouses and children for pain and suffering. In addition, it will calculate the economic value of the life lost.
GM said Tuesday it was sending 440,000 additional letters this week. GM said late Sunday the number was correct at the time "but has increased since then" without elaborating. Last week, Cain said by Nov. 22, the automaker will have sent 4.7 million notification letters in the U.S. and 581,000 in Canada.
The latest notification includes letters to current owners who bought the cars used. Cain said GM had to conduct significant research to track down current and former owners, in part because some vehicles have changed hands several times. The mailing also took significant time to prepare, he said.
In addition, the company's victims compensation fund sent claim forms this summer to those who had previously filed a claim against GM involving one of the recalled vehicles.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said a disclosure in a New York Times report last week — that Jean Averill of Washington, Conn., was one of the earliest victims of GM's defective ignition switch in a 2003 crash — raised questions about the Detroit automaker's conduct. The story said the family didn't know they were eligible to apply for the compensation program.
Blumenthal had asked GM to lift the Dec. 31. deadline.
Last week, GM defended the program, saying since June 30, when Feinberg held a news conference, there has been overwhelming public attention to the program. In July, Barra and Feinberg testified about the program in front of a U.S. Senate committee. GM's website at www.GMIgnitionUpdate.com has received more than 750,000 visits since the Feinberg compensation program was announced.
GM faces investigations from the Justice Department, Congress, 48 state attorneys general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal regulators over its recall of 2.6 million older Cobalt, Ion and other cars over faulty ignition switches that caused air bags not deploy in frontal collisions.
The company in May paid a record $35 million fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and agreed to up to three years of intense oversight by the safety agency and has recalled a record 30 million vehicles worldwide in 78 campaigns, including 26.5 million in the United States.