DETROIT — The deadline for victims of crashes caused by faulty General Motors ignition switches has been extended for a month as the death toll rose to 33.
Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering GM's compensation fund, announced Sunday night that the deadline has been extended until Jan. 31, 2015. In a web posting on Monday, Feinberg said he has determined that 33 death claims are eligible for compensation by the fund. That's up from 32 last week.
GM came under fire last week because the family of a Connecticut woman who died in a 2003 crash had not been notified that her crash had been linked to a faulty switch, even though GM knew for years. The family's lawyer and a U.S. senator called on GM to extend the deadline beyond Dec. 31.
Feinberg said in a statement that the extension is being done out of an abundance of caution, even though many efforts have been made to reach owners of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars that have been recalled due to the defective switches. He said notices about the compensation fund have been sent to nearly 4.5 million current and prior owners of the cars.
GM said last week that it has reached the family of Connecticut mother Jean Averill, who died when her Ion crashed into a tree. Averill, 66, of Washington, Connecticut, was one of 13 people that GM originally thought had died in crashes caused by the faulty switches.
Averill's family didn't know that GM attributed her death to the ignition switch until told by a reporter from The New York Times earlier this month, said Bob Hilliard, the family's lawyer. For 11 years, the family believed that Averill suffered a stroke while driving, causing the crash, Hilliard said.
GM's insurance company denied the family's claim for damages in 2004, he said in a statement. "The entire time, GM, as its proven habit, covered up the truth," Hilliard said.
The ignition switches can slip out of the run position and cause engines to stall. That can disable power steering and brakes as well as the air bags.
In the web posting, Feinberg said he had received a total of 217 death claims. He rejected 31 claims, determined that 77 were "deficient," and 27 remain under review. Forty-nine were submitted with no documentation. Feinberg has received 1,888 injury claims, and 72 have been deemed eligible so far.
The fund began taking claims on Aug. 1.