The U.S. Department of Transportation is putting automakers on notice that the federal government is serious about holding manufacturers accountable if they don’t recall defective vehicles in a timely manner. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters that he wants Congress to hike the maximum fine for recalcitrant automakers from $35 million to $300 million.
His announcement comes in the wake of the General Motors recall of 2.6 million vehicles with an ignition switch problem that may be linked to the deaths of over a dozen people. The auto giant has been accused of allegedly knowing about the problem for a decade but doing nothing to take steps to recall the affected vehicles until this year. The problem may still not have come to light had it not been for evidence presented in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a Georgia woman.
The maximum fine for untimely recalls was doubled in 2012 – from $17.5 million to $35 million. Foxx emphasized that the proposed hike in the maximum fine was meant to send auto makers the message that non-compliance would result in “more than a rounding error” and that the department “wants to make sure there’s an ability to make it count and ensure there’s enough of an affect across the industry.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking authority to mandate that automobiles be removed from the market when a defect is first discovered. Legislation proposed in 2010 sought to give the agency the authority to order automakers to stop sales and order immediate recalls of vehicles with defects deemed dangerous enough to cause a death or serious injury.
That legislation was abandoned, so the NHTSA still needs to go through a lengthy three-pronged process to compel an automaker to recall a vehicle. The agency still cannot force automakers to tell their customers to stop driving defective vehicles.
Recently, Toyota was fined three times for not recalling vehicles in a timely fashion – to the tune of some $66 million. Last year, Ford Motor Co. was fined $17.5 million for not recalling Ford Escape SUVs in a timely fashion.
The defective product liability attorneys at Farah & Farah in St. Augustine will be watching to see if the DOT follows up on its threat. It is an automobile manufacturer’s duty, by law to produce and sell products that are safe. If you have been injured due to a defect in your vehicle, fight back. Call us to learn about your legal rights. We can be contacted online or call us toll-free at (800) 533-3555.