Dem senators want to jail automakers who cover up defects

Dem senators want to jail automakers who cover up defects
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Following a series of major recalls, two Democratic senators want to jail automakers who cover up car defects.

A new measure sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.) would make failing to inform federal regulators about faulty auto parts a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. The measure is known as the Hide No Harm Act. 

The sponsors of the legislation say it is necessary after General Motors and the Justice Department reached a settlement over a 2014 recall that did not include criminal charges for high-ranking former GM executives. 

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"We cannot continue to condone blatantly deceptive and immoral behavior — for too long, individuals who deceive the public and cover up information about dangerous or deadly products have gotten away with little to no penalties," Blumenthal said in a statement. 

"This measure would put in place common-sense, long-overdue reforms to ensure officers are held responsible for dishonorable acts that put lives at risk," he continued. "We cannot afford to repeat cases like GM and [automotive parts manufacturer] Takata where no one was held accountable for actions that resulted in over 120 deaths. We owe it to the victims and their families of the preventable tragedies to ensure that justice will be served for anyone complicit in future cover-ups.”

Casey said, "This legislation will work to provide an additional measure of accountability when dangerous products harm workers.  

"The GM ignition switch recall impacted families across Pennsylvania," he added. "The impacted families in Pennsylvania and across the nation deserve justice. This legislative effort is a step in that direction.”

GM has been under fire from lawmakers since it was revealed last year that the faulty ignition switches that prompted the recall of about 2 million cars were found to be defective years ago. The switches, which caused cars to shut off abruptly or disabled airbags, have been linked to 13 deaths. 

The automaker reached an agreement with the Justice Department to pay $900 million in fines in exchange for deferred prosecution on criminal charges related to allegations that for years the company covered up problems with its cars.

Supporters of jail time for automakers who are involved in recall cover-ups called that settlement insufficient. 

"After the disgraceful GM settlement, it’s imperative that the Hide No Harm Act be made law,” said Robert Weissman, who is co-chairman of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which is supporting the Democratic legislation. 

“We need to make clear to corporations and corporate executives that they will face criminal prosecution if they hide product and workplace dangers from government regulators and the public," Weissman continued. "And we need to make it clear to prosecutors that they have no excuse to let giant corporations off the hook with cost-of-doing business fines that fail to punish, deter or provide justice to victims of corporate crime.”