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Car Maker Fails to Notify After Defective Ignition Switch Reported

The name of the first person known to have died because of a faulty ignition switch was redacted in the public report released by General Motors. Her family did not know that they might be eligible for compensation and had not been contacted by the giant automaker.

GM has linked 13 victims to the ignition switch defect, according to a story in the New York Times. Her Connecticut family had thought that she died of a stroke while at the wheel. She was 81 years old and although remarkably active, could have had a stroke or some other event that caused her to lose control of the car, a Saturn Ion.

The company had last been contact with the victim's family in 2004, when it rejected an insurance claim over an airbag that did not deploy when the vehicle hit a tree. The defective ignition switch is known to cause the vehicle to shut off, causing the driver to lose control.  Airbags that fail to deploy are the other major consequence of the defect.

The Times requested that the family contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSB) last week.  This was the first time that it became known that the woman was one of the 13 - even though her name did not appear in the report.

General Motors said it was telling victims' families about the compensation fund, including mailing claim forms to people who had filed claims against GM before.  Although this last category should have included the woman's family, they had received nothing by the time the story was published.

Unfortunately, there is a deadline of December 31 for filing claims because of the defective product.  Because the family had not received notification, filing a claim by that date could be very challenging.   Moreover, because of the 2009 bankruptcy settlement that protected the company from lawsuits, it may be difficult to sue outside of the establish claims process for defective ignition switch claims.

The defect in the ignition switch caused the automaker to recall 2.6 million cars earlier this year.  GM has recalled a total of 26 million cars this year because a wide range of defects in addition to those defective ignition switch.

The family of the first person known to have died is not the only family to be left in the dark about GM's intentions.  Last May, the Times published a story that named 12 of the 13 victims identified by GM in its report.  Like the Connecticut family, these families had not been notified by GM that their loved ones had been included in the report.