In Letter To GM CEO Mary Barra, Markey, Blumenthal Call On Automaker To Extend January 31 Deadline For Victims To Apply For Compensation Fund

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra to urge the automaker to extend its arbitrary January 31 deadline for victims of its deadly ignition switch defect to apply for inclusion in GM’s compensation fund. For nearly a decade, GM concealed the defect, and, in at least one case, the family of a woman GM listed internally as a victim was never notified about the link between the ignition switch and her death.
 
The Senators wrote:
 
“Even after the defect was uncovered through litigation, G.M. failed to notify families like the Averill’s of Washington, Connecticut, that they had been on your company’s internal list of thirteen victims for years. Jean Averill’s death occurred in 2003 – one of the earliest fatalities G.M.’s legal department had attributed to the ignition switch defect – and her family was not made aware of this link until the New York Times contacted them in November 2014.
 
“The Department of Justice is investigating whether any criminal conduct was involved in G.M.’s handling of the ignition switch defect. Further, several victims who have decided to pursue claims in court are waiting on a federal court determination of the extent of G.M.’s liability in the aftermath of its 2009 bankruptcy. Put simply, right now, injured parties do not know enough about their legal rights or facts to make an informed decision. Indeed, they cannot have sufficient information until the DOJ concludes its criminal investigation and the bankruptcy court decides whether to lift the liability shield that G.M. now unjustifiably hides behind.”
 
Last year, Sens. Blumenthal and Markey introduced legislation to ensure auto manufacturers provide more information about incidents involving fatalities to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The legislation, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, would require NHTSA make the information it receives from auto manufacturers publicly available in a searchable, user-friendly format so that consumers and independent safety experts can evaluate potential safety defects themselves. GM has admitted to knowing for at least a decade about the ignition switch defect in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions that have led to the massive recall, and NHTSA failed to connect the dots using accident reports and other information it had to more quickly and aggressively investigate the defect.
 
The complete text of the letter to GM is below:
 
 
January 28, 2015
 
Mary Barra
Chief Executive Officer
General Motors Company
P.O Box 33 170
Detroit, MI 48232
 
Dear Ms. Barra:
 
            We write today to urge you to reconsider the arbitrary deadlines associated with G.M.’s ignition switch compensation fund. 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.
 
            On Monday, fund manager Kenneth Feinberg announced that the total fatalities attributed to G.M.’s defective cars had climbed to 50 – up from your company’s previously announced 13. The total number of catastrophic injuries rose to seven, and minor injuries to 68. In total, according to Mr. Feinberg – and by extension G.M., through its delegation of authority – 125 people have been killed or injured due to defective ignition switches in G.M. cars and are eligible for compensation. Under the rules of the compensation fund, applicants that are “deemed eligible” have ninety days to decide whether to accept payment through the fund – and waive any future legal rights associated with their claims, regardless of new information or changed circumstances.
 
            However, this deadly defect was concealed by your company for almost a decade. Even after the defect was uncovered through litigation, G.M. failed to notify families like the Averill’s of Washington, Connecticut, that they had been on your company’s internal list of thirteen victims for years. Jean Averill’s death occurred in 2003 – one of the earliest fatalities G.M.’s legal department had attributed to the ignition switch defect – and her family was not made aware of this link until the New York Times contacted them in November 2014.
 
The Department of Justice is investigating whether any criminal conduct was involved in G.M.’s handling of the ignition switch defect. Further, several victims who have decided to pursue claims in court are waiting on a federal court determination of the extent of G.M.’s liability in the aftermath of its 2009 bankruptcy. Put simply, right now, injured parties do not know enough about their legal rights or facts to make an informed decision. Indeed, they cannot have sufficient information until the DOJ concludes its criminal investigation and the bankruptcy court decides whether to lift the liability shield that G.M. now unjustifiably hides behind.
 
            While we appreciate your company’s voluntary commitment to the compensation fund, to truly live up to the promises you have made to the American public in the wake of the ignition switch recalls, G.M. must reconsider the deadlines associated with the fund. G.M. should either commit to waiving its bankruptcy shield in all pending legal actions, or permit all victims who qualify for the fund to postpone their acceptance of their compensation until the completion of the Department of Justice investigation and the ruling of the bankruptcy court.
 
           
Sincerely,
 
 
______________________________                                    ______________________________
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                                   EDWARD J. MARKEY
United States Senate                                                                United States Senate