November 12, 2014 / 9:04 PM / 5 years ago

Safety advocate urges GM switch fund to intensify victim outreach

The General Motors logo is seen outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan in this file photograph taken August 25, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A car-safety advocate on Wednesday urged the lawyer overseeing General Motors Co’s program to compensate victims of accidents linked to a faulty ignition switch in its vehicles to take a more active approach to finding cases of injury or death.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in a letter to Ken Feinberg, the lawyer overseeing the GM program, that Feinberg should expand outreach efforts and scour federal car-safety databases for accidents in recalled vehicles to determine whether the switch was to blame for additional injuries or deaths.

The switch, which can slip out of position, cutting power to air bags and brakes, prompted the recall of 2.6 million vehicles this year.

The program headed by Feinberg, which began accepting claims on Aug. 1, had received 1,851 claims as of Friday. So far Feinberg has deemed 67 claims eligible, including 32 for deaths and 35 for injuries.

Ditlow’s letter said reports in federal car-safety databases suggest there may be more switch-related accidents, and that “further search is necessary” to identify possible claimants. He pointed to a recent report from the New York Times that said that the family of a woman killed in an early ignition-switch crash had not been aware that they were eligible to make a claim.

“The Center for Auto Safety is concerned that the GM ignition compensation program will turn out to be little more than a public relations ploy for General Motors,” Ditlow wrote.

A spokesman for GM, Jim Cain, said the company is taking steps to notify all known current and former owners of recalled vehicles about the program. Since July, about 5.3 million letters have been, or will be, sent to those owners, with a final batch of mailings scheduled for next week, Cain said.

Feinberg said in an email to Reuters that he had received Ditlow’s letter and would take it under advisement. He noted that the program has already recognized 32 deaths, nearly three times the 13 originally attributed to the switch by GM.

The program will continue accepting claims until Dec. 31.

Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi; and Peter Galloway

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