General Motors, following the recommendation of attorney Ken Feinberg, said late Sunday it agreed to to extend the deadline for victims of faulty ignition switches to apply for compensation by another month to Jan. 31.
In a statement, Feinberg said notices have already been sent to 4.5 million people. He said the additional one month was being implemented "out of an abundance of caution." Another 850,000 "supplemental notices" are being sent this week, he said.
"I believe that the many efforts to reach all possible GM automobile owners, former owners and others who might have been adversely impacted by a defective ignition switch have been both comprehensive and effective," Feinberg's statement said.
"There will always be some individuals who do not receive formal notice and are generally unaware of available compensation. But such individuals appear to be very few in number."
In its statement, GM said: “We agreed with Ken Feinberg’s recommendation to extend the compensation program deadline. Our goal with the program has been to reach every eligible person impacted.”
One of them was Jamie Frei -- a 20-year-old Marine when his Chevrolet Cobalt hit a tree north of Philadelphia in December 2006. The airbag failed, and he spent 29 days in a coma before waking up and learning how to walk again.
Frei's name appeared on pages 130 and 131 of the lengthy report detailing GM's internal investigation into faulty ignition switches on his and 2.6 million other cars, though it was blacked out in the publicly released version of the report. His accident was denoted by a small diamond on a graph prepared for the GM executives who approved a recall in January.
On another page, his injuries were classified as "moderate."
But Frei says he didn't know GM had established a compensation fund for people injured or killed in crashes linked to the ignition switches until he was contacted last week by an Automotive News reporter.
"I had no idea," said Frei, who eventually recovered enough that the military deployed him to Afghanistan. "I haven't heard from [GM] since 2008."
That's when Frei agreed to a settlement with the automaker, court records show. Under the compensation program being administered by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, Frei could be eligible for a much larger amount: $385,000, based on the length of his hospital stay.
Hints last week
Sunday night's announcement came after Feinberg hinted last week that he is considering extending that deadline and doing more to contact potential victims who haven't filed a claim, in response to requests last week from lawyer Bob Hilliard and safety advocate Clarence Ditlow.
Hilliard has submitted numerous claims to Feinberg, whom he described as being fair in decisions returned so far. On Wednesday, Hilliard was hired by the family of Jean Averill, a Connecticut woman whose 2003 death was among the first 13 fatalities that GM linked to the defect. Averill's family didn't know of the connection until informed this month by The New York Times, which Hilliard called "stunning," given that the family has lived on the same fruit farm for 10 generations.
GM said on Friday that it has since contacted Averill's family, attributing the delay to the fact that the 2004 claim related to her crash had come from an insurance company. Spokesman Jim Cain said GM has worked aggressively to notify owners of the affected cars about the recall and the compensation fund, with the latest round of 5.3 million letters from CEO Mary Barra set to go out this week.
"It's been a really extensive effort," Cain said. "Our goal here is to reach everyone who has a potential claim to invite them to participate."
Feinberg had received 1,851 claims, including for 202 deaths, and approved 67 of them as of Nov. 7.
GM also turned over its claim files to Feinberg, who has mailed forms as well, but Hilliard said Dec. 31 is too soon to shut people out.
"There's absolutely no reason not to keep the fund open for another year. It's just an arbitrary date," Hilliard said.
"When I see a Cobalt at the gas station, I go up and say 'Do you know your car's been recalled?' and nobody does."
Mike Colias contributed to this report.