On Feb. 26, 2015, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved a bill titled the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act. This bill is the handiwork of Chairman John Thune and Ranking Member Bill Nelson. The Thune-Nelson bill allows for employees or contractors of motor vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers, and dealerships to receive compensation for penalties resulting from any governmental legal action exceeding one million dollars.

The purpose of this legislation is to prevent roadway injuries and death from defective automobiles. It will provide a powerful tool to ensure the prompt disclosure of any known issues with vehicles regarding safety defects. Most manufacturers say they are dedicated to maintaining roadway safety; however, their actions don’t always live up to those claims. Individuals have been hurt or killed because of defective cars being put on our highways. This bill will hold participants in the automobile industry responsible for their decisions that result in harmful consequences to the public.

This bill is designed, much like several other statutory whistleblower protections, to encourage the disclosure of unknown information. It provides incentives for whistleblowers to come forward with this unknown information. Whistleblowers can receive up to 30 percent of the monetary penalties if they disclose information involving an unknown defect or condition that is likely to cause injury or death. It can be either to the Department of Transportation or the U.S. Department of Justice. This bill also takes into account the significance of the information, as well as the opportunity the whistleblower had to report the problems to his employer. Conclusively, this bill will incentivize disclosing information in order to maintain public safety.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act is needed to protect whistleblowers who are aware of serious and dangerous defects in automobiles driven by Americans every day. The purchase of an automobile is a significant investment and is the second costliest expense many Americans have, outside of a home mortgage. When citizens purchase defective automobiles, they are not only exposed to dangerous and deadly defects, but they are also overpaying for a vehicle with a defect that they would not have bought had they known of the risks.

Last year was the “Year of the Recalls” and this year hasn’t slowed down. We have written on recalls in this issue. Whistleblowers need to be encouraged and not punished for stepping forward and telling the truth. Simply put, whistleblowers save lives. Hopefully, this bill will pass and be signed into law.

Lawyers at Beasley Allen continue to vigorously investigate fraud against both the federal and state governments and we encourage anyone who knows of fraudulent activities to step forward and report them. Potential whistleblowers must be protected against being retaliated against for doing the right thing and reporting fraud they have witnessed. Anyone considering doing the right thing and blowing the whistle is strongly urged to seek legal advice before doing so. They must understand their legal rights and authority so as to do things right and be protected.

Our lawyers are knowledgeable concerning the federal False Claims Act and its state counterparts and have experience in whistleblower litigation. They can help guide whistleblowers through the process. If you need any information and would like to speak with a lawyer, contact Andrew Brashier, a lawyer in our firm’s Consumer Fraud and Commercial Litigation Section, at Andrew.Brashier@beasleyallen.com, or at 800-898-2034 or 334-269-2343.

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