Source: Connecticut Post by David McCumber
WASHINGTON -- The claim-filing deadline for a compensation fund set up by General Motors on behalf of families of victims killed and injured by defective ignition switches has been extended for a month, to Jan. 31.
Ken Feinberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney hired by GM to administer the fund, announced the decision to extend the claim period Monday.
Reached Friday by phone as he was considering the deadline, he said he had rechecked General Motors' protocol for notifying victims as a result of the case of Jean Averill, a Washington, Conn., woman who became the first known fatality from the defective ignition switch when she crashed her Saturn Ion into a tree in 2004.
Until they were contacted by a reporter two weeks ago, Averill's survivors did not know her death was due to the defective part.
Despite knowing of the switch's role in the crash at least since June of this year, GM had not notified them.
The car manufacturer said they expected to notify the Averills this week.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who had been questioning GM's conduct in the matter before the link to the Averill fatality was discovered, had called on Feinberg to extend the deadline.
But Monday, Blumenthal said the one-month extension was inadequate.
"Right now injured parties do not know enough about their legal rights ... to make intelligent or informed decisions," Blumenthal said Monday. GM's delay in notifying the Averill family "remains a shocking contradiction of whatever public trust the company was taking steps to rebuild," he added.
Mark Averill, Jean Averill's son, declined comment when contacted in Connecticut. But he referred a reporter to the family's lawyer, Robert Hilliard, of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, a prominent firm in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Hilliard agreed the one-month extension is not adequate. "Far from it," he said.
"We will file the Averill claim inside the fund," he said. "Once an award is made, the Averills will have three months to determine if they want to accept it."
But he said GM should leave the fund open until a determination is made regarding the issue of whether bankruptcy will protect GM from lawsuits filed as a result of pre-2009 accidents -- which would include the Averills'.
"There is really no way for the Averills to make a thoughtful decision without knowing what their alternative is," Hilliard said. "If GM wins the bankruptcy argument, then the Averills will have no alternative but the fund. If GM loses the bankruptcy argument, then litigation ... would be an option. A jury's verdict would be much more than a Feinberg award."