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Over 4,000 Claims Filed as Deadline Passes on GM Settlement Fund

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It’s February 2015. Did you get your ignition switch injury claim into the General Motors (GM) settlement fund?

If you didn’t, it’s too late now.

Two U.S. Senators—Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.)—tried to get the company to extend the deadline again (they did so once before, extending it from December 31, 2014, to January 31, 2015), but GM refused, stating they had conducted extensive outreach about the program and did not plan another extension.

At last count, the fund had received about 4,200 claims. So far, GM has approved payments for 51 deaths, 8 catastrophic injuries, and 69 less severe injuries.

GM Refuses to Extend the Deadline Again

According to AutoNews, Senators Blumenthal and Markey called the GM deadline “arbitrary,” and believed victims of ignition-switch-defect-related injuries should have more time to file claims with the settlement fund. They added that victims couldn’t understand completely the extent of their rights until the Department of Justice investigation into the matter had been completed.

The settlement fund began taking claims on August 1, 2014. According to the website, the fund was created “to settle claims alleging that a defect in the ignition switch in certain GM vehicles caused a death or physical injury in an automobile accident.” To file a claim, a victim had to have been “a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or occupant of another vehicle involved in an accident resulting in physical injury or death allegedly as a result of an Ignition Switch Defect involving” an eligible vehicle. The website lists those vehicles, which include varying models of Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Saturns, Opels, and Daewoos.

GM Sees Evidence of Ignition Switch Defect a Decade Ago

GM is under investigation for how it handled the ignition switch defect because of evidence showing the company knew about the problem at least 10 years before they began recalling vehicles in 2014. As early as 2001, they discovered a potential issue during pre-production testing of the Saturn Ion.

At issue was the fact that the ignition switch could inadvertently turn to the “off” position, shutting off the power and potentially affecting air bag deployment in an accident. In 2004 and 2005, GM engineers noted that heavy key rings, or key rings with other items on them, could jostle and shift, causing the ignition switch to move out of the run position. They suggested in 2005 a redesign to fix the issue, but GM ultimately decided not to go forward with it.

In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended an investigation into several accidents in which air bags failed to deploy, resulting in serious injuries and deaths in GM vehicles. But by the end of the year, the administration concluded there was no need for such a probe. In 2010, they again recommended an investigation, but the matter was later dropped.

It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that GM determined that an ignition switch defect had, indeed, led to 13 deaths and 31 injuries. They began associated recalls in February 2014.