Senators urge GM to extend deadline
Washington – — General Motors Co. says it won’t extend its Jan. 31 deadline to file claims for injuries and deaths in its delayed recall of cars with faulty ignition switches, despite a call to do so by two U.S. senators.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, wrote GM CEO Mary Barra on Wednesday to urge extending the deadline. But GM said in a statement it does not plan to do so.
“Our goal is to be just and timely in compensating the families who lost loved ones and those who suffered physical injury. We have conducted extensive outreach about the program and contacted more than 5 million current and former owners of the recalled vehicles,” the Detroit automaker wrote. “We previously extended the deadline until Jan. 31, and we do not plan another extension.”
In November, GM compensation fund chief Ken Feinberg successfully asked GM to extend the fund for another month from Dec. 31 to Jan. 31. He cited the fact that at least one family of the 13 deaths originally linked by GM to the ignition switch defects was unaware of the program.
The senators wrote, “Victims that qualify for compensation must have a meaningful choice between accepting restitution through the fund or pursuing their claims in court, and that choice can’t be made until they have all the information necessary to decide whether to waive their legal rights to pursue litigation at a future date. While we appreciate your company’s voluntary commitment to the compensation fund, to truly live up to the promises you have made ... in the wake of the ignition switch recalls, GM must reconsider the deadlines associated with the fund.”
A federal bankruptcy court is still deciding whether to let claims proceed. General Motors Co. — which was formed in a government-sponsored sale of assets from its predecessor’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization — has said it will not invoke its bankruptcy liability shield in the case of injuries or deaths to avoid payments by Feinberg, but is fighting other claims made by owners of vehicles for economic losses. A hearing is set for Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York on the issue. If GM wins, victims of crashes before the restructuring likely could not sue GM.
The senators cited an ongoing criminal investigation into GM’s conduct by a federal grand jury and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York. They argued that victims can’t decide whether to accept GM’s settlement until that probe is completed and the bankruptcy court decides.
On Monday, Feinberg said the compensation fund had approved another death claim, bringing fatalities attributed to faulty switches to 50. He also OK’d three new injury claims last week, for a total to 75. Seven involve very serious injuries and 68 are for minor ones.
Feinberg declined to comment Wednesday.
The number of death claims rose to 338, up 27, and serious injury claims rose to 224, up 17. Feinberg has declared 386 ineligible, including 58 death claims, while 802 claims are still under review and 847 have been submitted without documentation.
GM set up the fund to compensate those hurt — and the families of those killed — in 2.59 million now-recalled Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with ignition switches that can inadvertently shut off the engine and disable power steering and air bags.
The automaker has said it expects to spend $400 million on claims, but said the amount could rise to $600 million. Feinberg said all approved death claims will get at least $1 million.
Feinberg has said it could take six months to review all applications once final claims are submitted, meaning final tallies may take until summer.
He said again Wednesday that the deadline is 11:59 p.m. Saturday to file claims, which must be postmarked by then. He urged people to file even if they don’t have all their paperwork.
Melissa Burden contributed.