Jean Averill died in December 2003 when the Saturn Ion she was driving crashed into a tree, and the airbag failed to deploy. Ms. Averill, 81 at the time, was fit and active. The family could never understand how she could swerve off the road and drive into a tree – they presumed she might have had a stroke.
As fate would have it, Ms. Averill’s death was the earliest death General Motors has recorded from the faulty ignition switch, and the first to happen with the Saturn Ion. She was among the original 13 victims of the ignition switch defect that the company has linked to the problem. The company has since revealed that the faulty switch can turn off suddenly, leaving drivers unable to control the car and disabling the airbags.
The New York Times reports that GM – to this day – has still not told Ms. Averill’s family that her death was linked to the faulty switch. Her name was redacted from GM’s recent reports, although the Times was able to uncover her identity. Even more concerning, the family did not know it was eligible for a minimum of $1 million from GM’s victim compensation fund.
GM turns down family’s insurance claim
After the accident, Ms. Averill’s family submitted a claim to GM because the airbags failed to deploy. In 2004, GM denied their claim. Of course, the family didn’t know at the time that she’d probably lost control of the car due to the faulty ignition switch. This appears to be the last communication the family has from GM.
Recently, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration confirmed that Ms Averill was among the first 13 victims of the faulty ignition switch. It’s not clear whether the family can meet the December 31 deadline to receive anything from the compensation fund. The family can’t sue, because GM won protection from liability on lawsuits from incidents occurring before its 2009 bankruptcy.
An internal report concluded that “organizational dysfunction” and a “pattern of incompetence” explain why the company knew about the defective switch for nearly 10 years before taking any action. GM finally issued a recall of millions of cars in February of this year.
The New York Times has contacted the other 12 of the original 13 families – they also confirm GM has never notified them their family member was a victim of the faulty switch.
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