Jean Averill died in a car crash in 2003. Her Saturn Ion's airbags never deployed, leading General Motors to name this the first fatal crash tied to a defective ignition switch. But while Averill's name appears in GM's 315-page internal ignition-switch report, they never heard from GM about the mechanical malfunction that most likely caused her death. It was only last week, after a Times inquiry, that the family discovered they're eligible for at least $1 million from GM's victim-compensation fund—if they can file a claim by the December 31 deadline.
"That's just so incomprehensible to me," Susan Averill, 66, Ms. Averill's daughter-in-law, told the Times. "All these years, we didn't know why she crashed into a tree." Despite Averill's name appearing in GM's internal documentation about ignition-switch problems, the last known communication between the automaker and Averill's family occurred in 2004, when the company rejected an insurance claim for Averill's death citing airbag non-deployment.
GM's legal department names Averill as the first among 13 victims in accidents attributed to the ignition-switch defect. Families of these 13 victims are eligible to receive at least $1 million from a victims' compensation fund set up by the automaker. But it wasn't until last week, when the Times encouraged the family to NHTSA, that they discovered they were eligible for the fund.
GM said it was making efforts to affected owners about the compensation fund, although it would not tell the Times whether it had specifically endeavored to reach out to the Averill family or those related to the other 12 victims named.
Now, Averill's family must file a claim before the December 31 deadline if they wish to be considered for payment. The Averills cannot sue GM due to the company's protection against litigation involving incidents that occurred before the company came out of bankruptcy in 2009, the Times explains.
Kenneth Feinberg, the compensation specialist appointed to administer GM's victim fund, has sole authority over victim compensation. The Times could not reach him for comment. Averill's family members say they never considered whether the 2003 crash was tied to the ignition-switch recall, which .
GM is facing ever-heightening scrutiny over its handling of the ignition-switch issue. Yesterday, reports surfaced that the company secretly began ordering replacement ignition switches , contradicting the automaker's claim that it only decided in February to launch a recall. Since then, the safety campaign has ballooned to cover 2.5 million vehicles, with the defect linked to at least 32 deaths. GM will linked to the ignition-switch recall in 2016.