August 5, 2014
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A fund set up by General Motors to pay for deaths and injuries caused by its vehicles with faulty ignition switches is accepting claims, but not without some controversy.
Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a defect not in the switches, but in GM's website, as users had problems determining if they were driving a defective car.
People who use the GM "VIN look-up" site were being told their cars weren't part of an active recall if the repair parts aren't yet available, even when the cars are, in fact, being recalled.
The VIN is the vehicle identification number. GM and other automakers maintain websites that allow owners to check for recalls by putting in a vehicle's VIN.
NHTSA said late Friday that it "determined that owners of some recalled GM vehicles are receiving incorrect and misleading results" using the automaker's VIN look-up system. NHTSA said it told GM to fix the system and tell owners about the problem.
"Consumers who have used GM's tool and found no recall should recheck," NHTSA said.
GM spokesman Greg Martin said Friday night: "We are aware of NHSTA's inquiry on the VIN look-up issue. We are making the necessary changes to our website."
He said that people who are unsure if they got the right answer from the website "should call the customer care numbers listed on our website."
The VIN look-up site should be fixed by now, NHTSA and GM anticipated Friday.
GM created a victims' compensation fund administered independently by compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who handled similar duty after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing.
GM has raised skepticism about whether Feinberg really is free to award what he thinks is fair when it said as part of its second-quarter earnings review that it expected to spend $400 million to $600 million on the fund.
Lawyers for victims said the figure was far too low and could serve as a signal to Feinberg that, despite GM's public hands-off stance, there is a cap on the fund.
Starting Aug. 20, NHTSA is requiring all automakers to provide a free online tool that lets owners search for recalls using the VIN. Many automakers already do so.
NHTSA said in its statement that it was alerted to the faulty GM VIN look-up system by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Contributing: The Associated Press
The original headline for this article: Drivers of recalled GM cars file claims online; But help website has some issues of its own
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