As motor vehicles have become more ubiquitous in the United States, fatalities and injuries from car accidents have risen dramatically – even as we have passed laws requiring seat belts, headrests, and shatterproof windshields, and even in the face of laws prohibiting driving under the influence and distracted driving. In recent times, the automobile industry has been rocked by several safety scandals, including the massive recalls of Firestone tires on Ford vehicles; ignition switches on GM vehicles; Toyota’s sticky gas pedals; Takata’s airbags; and Volkswagen’s emissions testing “defeaters.” These health and safety issues have affected countless lives.
The government is now seeking whistleblowers’ help to expose motor vehicle defects and other safety issues. In December 2015, as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, Congress passed the bi-partisan Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act (MVWSA), co-sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Under this law, employees and contractors of motor vehicles manufacturers, dealerships, and suppliers can blow the whistle on significant safety issues affecting vehicles on U.S. roads and highways; if the whistleblower’s voluntary report results in monetary sanctions of at least $1 million, the whistleblower can claim a reward of between 10% and 30% of that sanction. Notably, the safety issue does not have to arise in the United States and the whistleblower can be a non-U.S. citizen and/or located outside the United States. In addition, the safety issue may have occurred in the past.
Whistleblowers need not file a lawsuit on the government’s behalf. Instead, they can submit their information directly to the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which will handle all investigation and enforcement activity. The law also guarantees whistleblowers protection from retaliation.
Mehri & Skalet has extensive expertise with the MVWSA. In fact, Whistleblower Rights Practice Group Co-Chair Cleveland Lawrence III had the privilege of testifying before Congress regarding this law, and the value of protecting whistleblowers. If you are an employee with information about a serious auto safety issue, please contact M&S.