Fiat Chrysler was slapped with a record $105 million fine this past Sunday by federal regulators as punishment for not completing 23 recalls of over 11 million vehicles due to safety issues. The penalty tops the $70 million fine Honda incurred this January for faulty airbags, making it the largest fine ever levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on an automaker for violations of federal safety rules.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said of the harsh punishment: “This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the department will act when they do not take their obligation to repair safety defect seriously.”
Fiat Chrysler also released a consent agreement this past Sunday in which the company admitted guilt in violating these recall regulations and agreed to the punishment, saying, “We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us.”
In a recent briefing in Detroit, the highway safety agency’s new administrator, Mark R. Rosekind, told reporters that, “We need a proactive safety culture in this country.” Rosekind has made a number of moves lately in an effort to crack down on automakers that avoid correcting defective vehicles.
General Motors is responsible for over 124 deaths and 266 injuries due to a faulty ignition switch, of which factory workers and corporate officials alike were aware. However, prosecutors attempting to charge individual employees who knew about this deadly defect have been met with an unfortunate legal roadblock.
Despite a history of lawmakers’ attempts to create stricter regulations, including criminal liability, for automakers, automakers and lobbyists have successfully kept legal standards low for the auto industry. The result of substantial lobbying and interference from trade groups representing the auto industry is that the current prosecution of G.M. over the release of defective automobiles is an uphill battle, with the prosecution of individual G.M. employees proving even more difficult.
Some lawmakers, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, are fighting to introduce laws that would inflict stiffer criminal penalties for corporate workers who knowingly conceal a defect that endangers the safety of the public. However, a spokesperson for the auto alliance argued that imposing criminal penalties would not spur faster recall decisions by automakers or help identify defects faster.
Expanding their investigation beyond Takata-made airbags, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an inquiry into airbag inflaters made by ARC Automotive. The investigation was announced Tuesday on the NHTSA’s website, explaining that the airbag inflaters are utilized in more than 400,000 model year 2002 Chrysler Town and County minivans, as well as approximately 70,000 Kia Optimas.
Investigations into this company follow reports of two separate airbag ruptures–one in 2009 involving a Town and Country minivan and the other in 2014 involving a Kia Optima–with both drivers suffering injuries. The inflaters in the airbags in question also utilize the same explosive compound that is present in recalled Takata airbags. So far, Takata has recalled more than 34 million inflaters, affecting vehicles made by 11 different automaker in the U.S. alone.
The ARC Automotive airbag inflaters, like those made by Takata, utilize ammonium nitrate to help create the gases that will inflate an airbag. However, investigations into Takata airbags have revealed that this compound can break down over time, and in doing so, can become highly combustible.
A spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler stated that the auto manufacturer no longer uses the inflater model that is under investigation.
In addition to a host of lawsuits revolving around ignition defects in G.M. vehicles, last week, plaintiffs asked the Manhattan Federal District Court to rule that G.M. and its outside attorneys covered up the defect, an act that may be considered criminal or fraudulent.
This request is made all the more ambitious by the fact that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could result in judges overruling the attorney-client privilege that keeps communication regarding a case confidential. According to the crime fraud exception, courts can require the disclosure of not only confidential communication, but also any documents, called work product, that were prepared by the attorneys if the client asked for or was given advice on how to engage in a crime or fraud now or in the future.
As a recent New York Times article points out, G.M. now faces a difficult situation, as the result of its pending settlement with federal prosecutors will have an effect on whether the attorney-client privilege is negated. A guilty plea could support the plaintiffs’ accusation that conversations with G.M.’s attorneys, King & Spalding, were a part of covering up the faulty ignition switch. Likewise, a deferred-prosecution agreement wherein G.M. would pay a major fine to avoid being forced to plead guilty could still involve G.M. admitting to criminal conduct. Both options could help the plaintiffs’ case against G.M. and contribute to a court decision requiring the company and King & Spalding to produce details of their communications.
A truck accident occurred in Chattanooga, Tennessee on June 25, resulting in the deaths of six individuals, two of whom were children, according to WDEF News 12.
The accident occurred on Interstate 75 when a commercial truck failed to adjust to slowed traffic due to construction. The truck then crashed into the row of cars in front of it.
Police authorities are conducting an investigation against Benjamin Brewer, the 39-year-old truck driver involved. Brewer reportedly received a citation for a traffic violation just the day before the crash in Chattanooga. Additionally, officers in Rock County in Wisconsin said they have a warrant for Brewer’s arrest due to his attempt to buy medication at a drug store with a fake prescription.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the Chattanooga Police Department, and the state highway patrol are working together to investigate this terrible accident. Lt. John Harmon of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said they are examining data from the truck to establish a timeline of events.
A malfunction in the heating and cooling system of Hummer sport utility vehicles has led General Motors to recall around 196,000 of the vehicles; specifically the 2006-2010 Hummer H3 and the 2009-2010 H3T. The automaker announced the recall on Wednesday, saying that at least two Hummers were destroyed in fires caused by the electrical issue. While three people suffered burns from the fires, there have been no reported casualties.
These two fires are not isolated incidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began receiving complaints regarding fires in the dashboard back in 2008, and Hummer drivers have lodged over twenty complaints about this issue. Additionally, Hummer representatives said that there have been 42 reported fires overall.
After an internal audit conducted this past June, the Transportation Department concluded that the NHTSA moved too slowly in completing investigations regarding consumer complaints. Safety agency administrator Mark R. Rosekind blamed the agency’s lack of resources for this failure when he appeared before a congressional subcommittee last month. It has been pointed out that Rosekind’s explanation is in direct opposition to his predecessors’ statements that the agency was satisfactorily funded.
Three people sustained injuries after a semi-truck accident on Interstate 24 in Murfreesboro, the Daily News Journal reported on June 18.
The truck accident happened between mile markers 76 and 80 at around 10:30 p.m., according to the Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department. A semi-truck and a pickup truck collided on the highway, and the pickup truck caught fire.
The driver of the pickup truck sustained burn wounds on his face, arms, head, and legs. He had already exited his vehicle by the time emergency medical crews arrived. The driver and passenger of the tractor trailer were brought to Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital for the treatment of their minor wounds.
The process of recovering from a truck accident can be long and painful, and it often results in significant medical expenses. Fortunately, the personal injury attorneys at Pohl & Berk, LLP, in Nashville may represent you against the negligent truck driver or truck company that contributed to your injuries. Call us at 615-277-2765 today to begin taking action.