Last month, Toyota reached a $1.2 billion settlement with the United States Justice Department to resolve allegations that the automaker had covered up defects in its cars. Of course, this was after earlier paying $66 million for failing to timely report problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles.
This month, General Motors is under fire for concealing defects in the ignition switches of more than 1.37 million vehicles which has been linked to 13 deaths. And, the U.S. Department has also filed a criminal action again G.M. alleging it concealed brake problems in its vehicles. Last year, Ford was fined $17.4 million dollars (the maximum fine at the time) for delaying a recall of the Ford Escape when the automaker knew the gas pedals could become stuck.
There appears to be an alarming trend of automakers covering up defects and delaying recalls. By law, automakers must report safety defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within 5 days of becoming aware of an issue. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can open its own investigation if it notices a trend in consumer complaints or accident information.
But while the NHTSA is supposed to be the watchdog for automakers, the agency’s staffing has been steadily decreasing in recent years. In 2002, the agency had 64 employees responsible for managing defect investigations. Today, the staff has been reduced to 51 with only 28 investigators. And the agency’s budget of $10 million has not been increased in almost a decade. Is the reduction of personnel in these important offices – and thus the lack of bodies to police the industry – an unintended or intended – consequence of government cutbacks?
With these budget and staffing levels, the NHTSA must monitor the 248 million vehicles on the road, effectively sort through the more than 40,000 consumer complaints about vehicles it receives each year and search for emerging defects in the tremendous amount of information it receives pursuant to the TREAD Act. Recalls are expensive and detrimental to the automaker’s image so it seems some have taken the approach of delaying them or hiding defects in hopes that the overburdened NHTSA will never find out.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, we offer a free, no-obligation consultation in which one of our award-winning lawyers will review your accident, answer your questions and advise you of your legal rights. But, please do not delay. The law only allows you a limited time to pursue your legal rights. Once the deadline has passed your rights are gone forever. Contact us today at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787 or simply fill out this form. We only get paid if we win and we advance all case expenses.