The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has paid more than $24 million to a whistleblower who reported that Hyundai and Kia dragged their feet on a safety recall that affected more than 1 million vehicles with engines that could catch fire or freeze up.
According to a news report in the Associated Press, NHTSA has said this is the first award it has paid to a whistleblower.
Automakers Failed to Recall Vehicles
The federal agency announced in November 2020 that Hyundai and Kia would pay $137 million in fines and for safety improvements in an agreement to fix the engine problems. This announcement resolved a three-year government investigation into the companies’ actions in connection with the recalls of several vehicle models since the 2011 model year. Hyundai paid $54 million in civil penalties and invested $40 million to improve safety operations while Kia, which is Hyundai’s sister company, paid $27 million in penalties and invested $16 million on safety performance measures.
NHTSA has not identified the whistleblower in its statement announcing the award. However, the statement did say that the automakers had inaccurately reported crucial information to NHTSA about serious engine defects in their vehicles. Under federal law, the agency is allowed to award 30% of collected penalties to a whistleblower who provides significant information that results in action bringing in penalties of more than $1 million. NHTSA opened its investigation in 2017 when Hyundai recalled about 470,000 vehicles in September 2015 for engine fire issues.
NHTSA said Hyundai limited the recall to engines made prior to April 2012 saying it solved the manufacturing problem. Also, Kia didn’t recall its cars and SUVs with the same engines contending they were manufactured in a different plant. However, 18 months after the 2015 recall, both Hyundai and Kia announced recalls of 1.2 million more vehicles for the same issue, including models that the companies originally said were not affected. Engine failure and fires have been an ongoing problem with Hyundai and Kia vehicles over the last five years, and have affected the owners of more than 8 million vehicles.
Importance of Prompt Safety Recalls
The law requires automakers to recall vehicles with safety-related defects or those vehicles that do not meet federal safety standards. Within a reasonable time after the determination of a safety defect or noncompliance, manufacturers must notify all registered owners and purchasers of the affected vehicles about the existence of the problem, explain the potential safety hazards, and let them know when and how the repairs will be made. The law requires that these notifications be made in a timely manner so that consumers are not put in harm’s way by the defective vehicles.
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of an auto defect, please contact an experienced auto product liability lawyer who will remain on your side, fight for your rights and help ensure that the negligent automakers are held liable.