Source: Detroit Free Press by Greg Gardner
General Motors has finally contacted the family of Jean Averill, the Connecticut woman whose death was the first of 13 fatalities the company reported to federal safety regulators in connection with the ignition switch recall.
Before hiring compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to administer an uncapped fund to compensation victims of accidents caused by defective ignition switches, GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified 13 related fatalities. Feinberg has since approved settlement offers to 32 families who have provided evidence that the defect was the substantial cause of the crash in which their loved ones died.
GM spokesman Jim Cain said GM began notifying the 13 families shortly after hiring the compensation expert to run the fund in May. All but one had been reached.
But earlier this week the New York Times identified Jean Averill of Washington, Conn., as the first victim. Her name was disclosed in a footnote of the 315-page independent report conducted by former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas for GM.
While the public copy of the Valukas report redacted Averill's name. GM's report identified her. Averill, 81 at the time, died in December 2003 when her 2003 Saturn Ion crashed into a tree without the air bag deploying.
Averill's family has retained Texas law firm, Hilliard MuÃ±oz and Gonzales to represent them. Bob Hilliard has asked Feinberg, as the one administering the GM Ignition Switch Compensation Fund, to extend the deadline for filing claims, now set for Dec. 31, by one year.
Wednesday, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, sent a letter to Feinberg offering help in reaching out to potential victims who may be unaware they are eligible for compensation while criticizing the process as moving too slow.
As of Monday Feinberg and his team had received 1,851 applications and determined that 67 were eligible for some type of settlement offer. Of those, 32 were families who claimed a loved one died in an ignition-switch related accident.
Referring to the Jean Averill case, Ditlow wrote that "GM knew the family had a claim and didn't reach out. And the GM Ignition Compensation Program which you head didn't reach out to the family. How many other victims didn't you reach out to?"
Feinberg is asking some claimants and their lawyers for additional evidence showing a faulty switch was linked to an injury or death.
"We have received Mr. Ditlow's letter and have taken it under advisement," Feinberg said. "We have already recognized almost triple the number of deaths attributable to the ignition switch defect previously acknowledged by GM."
As for Ditlow's criticism that he has not been proactive in seeking out victims, Feinberg said, "Mr. Ditlow should reexamine his statistics about the fund I am administering."