Washington – General Motors knew Jean Averill’s Saturn Ion had a faulty ignition switch when the car ran into a tree in 2003, causing her death; but the company did not inform the family of the defect until recently in an “outrageous, deliberate concealment,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal charged Tuesday.
Blumenthal has been critical of GM’s handling of complaints since the company notified federal regulators and the public early this year that it was recalling cars with a dangerously defective ignition switch.
But until the New York Times revealed Monday that Averill, 81, was among 13 fatalities linked to defective part, there were no known victims from Connecticut.
“The terrible tragedy of Jean Averill’s death was compounded by the unconscionable chain of error and denial that caused it, and the outrageous, deliberate concealment that kept her family in the dark,” Blumenthal said. “General Motors’ failure to inform the Averill family of its clear internal determination – that Jean’s death resulted from the company’s continuing use of a defective ignition switch – undercuts everything it has said about its good faith and integrity.”
In a statement GM said “our goal is to be just and timely in compensating all of the families who lost loved ones and those who suffered serious physical injury.”
The New York Times found out about Averill after it obtained an unredacted copy of a report on the ignition switch problem.
It said Averill’s death in December 2003 was the earliest such fatality the company logged on its books, and the first to involve a Saturn Ion. Vehicles with the defective switch can suddenly turn off, disabling the airbags, cutting off power to the brakes and steering and making it difficult for drivers to maintain control.
Averill’s family was notified about the circumstances of her accident about six weeks before the Dec. 31 deadline for victims and their families to apply to a compensation fund.
GM still has not reached out to the family, but company spokesman James Cain said there’s been a lot of publicity about the compensation fund.
“The Averill family should receive a letter from GM next week,” Cain said.
Blumenthal said the deadline to apply to the fund should be extended.