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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 27, 2015

Motor vehicle whistleblower bill approved by Senate Commerce Committee

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

The bipartisan Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act (S. 304) was approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee by voice vote on February 26. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee chairman, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla), the ranking member, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

S. 304 would allow employees or contractors of motor vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers, and dealerships to receive up to 30 percent of the monetary penalties resulting from a DOT or U.S. Department of Justice enforcement action that totals more than $1 million if they share original information not previously known to the DOT relating to any motor vehicle defect, noncompliance, or any violation of reporting requirements that is likely to cause risk of death or serious injury.

The bill takes into account whether the whistleblower had the opportunity to report the problems internally, as well as the significance of the information. It will also protect whistleblowers’ identities. The legislation, which was first introduced last November, is modeled after existing statutory whistleblower protections that encourage individuals to share information with the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In response to the vote, Sen. Thune stated, “While I believe most manufacturers are dedicated to putting vehicle safety first, there have been disappointing examples where that did not happen and Americans died and sustained serious injuries. This legislation will be a powerful tool to help ensure that problems regarding known safety defects are promptly reported to safety regulators.” Sen. Nelson added, “The auto industry needs to be held accountable if it makes decisions that result in serious injuries or deaths. And, one way to do that is to encourage insiders to come forward and tell the truth.”

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