One week after U.S. Senators vocalized their frustration over the lack of progress in the Takata airbag recall, the U.S. government announced that Takata has agreed to pay three whistleblowers who provided key information about Takata’s efforts to conceal the dangers. The congressional hearings were held last week in an attempt to hold regulators and automakers accountable for not ensuring that a larger percentage of the potentially lethal Takata airbags have been replaced with safe airbags. According to the hearings, only 42 percent of the 50 million recalled airbags have been replaced, and regulators said that up to another 20 million may still be recalled.
Takata agreed in court to pay three former employees turned whistleblowers a combined $1.7 million as part of their bankruptcy proceedings. Two of the employees remain anonymous, while engineer Mark Lillie, who protested when Takata first began using ammonium nitrate in its propellant, has publically denounced the actions of his former employer. Lawyers representing the three whistleblowers requested that Takata set aside significantly more money under the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act. But as part of their bankruptcy, the judge only required the Japanese airbag and seatbelt manufacturer set aside $566,666 for each whistleblower.
The attorneys representing the three former Takata employees told reporters after the announcement that the U.S. government may still decide to award additional money to their clients. But a spokesperson for the U.S. government said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is still in the process of establishing the rules governing such payments.
Mark Lillie was one of Takata’s top chemical engineers, but decided to resign in 1999 after learning of his company’s concealment of incriminating evidence that the ammonium nitrate it planned to use in its inflators was volatile and could cause explosions. Lillie then turned over evidence to the U.S. government showing that Takata had forged documents and knew that their airbags were potentially lethal going back to 1999. According to the law firm representing Lillie, the documents in question showed that Takata “falsified data, subverted testing procedures, and concealed reports its airbags were prone to failure.”
According to a Reuters article, Lillie reportedly told Takata executives that, “If we go forward with this, somebody will be killed.” But he was allegedly ignored because ammonium nitrate is much cheaper than other propellants and thus Takata could sell its inflators at lower cost than its competitors. So far, Takata airbags are connected to 23 deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide.