Federal safety regulators announced auto manufacturing giant Honda will be fined $70 million – the maximum allowable by Congress – for intentionally underreporting deaths, injuries and safety risks involving its vehicles.
The announcement coincides with the company’s agreement to allow broader oversight by officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as more independent audits to ensure its future safety reports are accurate.
The two $35 million fines relate to the company’s failure to report nearly 1,730 injuries and deaths to the federal regulatory agency between 2003 and 2014. The automaker said it discovered the discrepancy on its own. It called the error the result of a “misinterpretation” of what should have been included and data coding errors.
The failure, made consistently for nearly a decade, amounts to more than half of the death/injury reports the company should have made per the 2003 TREAD Act. This information is coined “Early Warning Reports,” and it’s used by the federal government to identify potential issues that could pose risk to public safety. It’s also used to help the government identify potential defects that require recall.
Depriving the government of this information effectively deprived the public of important safety knowledge, and may have put even more lives at risk.
Also cited in the decision was the company’s practice of fixing car defects outside of warranty. Under the guise of “customer satisfaction campaigns,” the car maker quietly repaired defective vehicles or defective vehicle parts even when it was outside the warranty period. But these problems were never reported to federal oversight agencies.
These reporting shortfalls are totally separate from the defects identified in Honda’s Takata-made airbag inflaters, suspected to be at issue in at least three deaths. Although one Takata airbag-related death and seven injuries were not reported to the NHTSA by Honda, the auto maker says the federal government was informed of those incidents via other channels.
Honda is just one of 10 car manufacturers subjected to recalls related to the faulty airbags, but it is the one with the most affected vehicles. Recently, company executives were called before a Senate committee to testify regarding the problem.
Auto safety advocates doubted Honda executives’ version of events, saying it “strains credulity” that a company with such sophistication and access to such cutting-edge technology could have made so many basic, fundamental errors.
This assertion that such underreporting may have been intentional is bolstered by the fact that despite a Honda employee pointing out a discrepancy in 2011, the company didn’t follow up. The matter was effectively dropped until officials with the NHTSA came knocking to ask whether its reports were in fact accurate.
Our Cape Coral injury lawyers recognize there are two general types of product liability claims that might be made from the noted defects. The first is the assertion vehicles were unreasonably dangerous by design. The second is that vehicles or vehicle parts were improperly manufactured in some way.
In addition to the vehicle manufacturer, other entities that might retain liability include the parts manufacturer (like Takata), the car dealership or auto supply shop, the shipping company and possibly the used car dealer.
Already, a number of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have begun to crop up in the wake of the airbag recall. It’s possible Honda’s willful reporting violations may come into play to plaintiffs’ advantage in some of these cases.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Feds fine Honda $70M for unreported safety problems, Jan. 8, 2015, By Chris Woodyard, USA Today
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