One week after Senators vocalized their frustration over the lack of progress in the Takata airbag recall, the U.S. government announced that a payment will be made to the whistleblowers who first brought the scandal to their attention. The congressional hearings were held last week in the attempt to hold regulators and automakers accountable for not ensuring that a larger percentage of the potentially lethal Takata airbags were off the road. According to the hearings only 42 percent of the 50 million recalled airbags have been repaired or 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 Mark Lillie 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. The law states that the whistleblowers can receive between 10 and 30 percent of any fine paid to the government. Takata settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion, so the whistleblowers, and the two law firms representing them, are hoping for millions more. 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 engineers, but decided to resign in 2001 after learning of his company’s concealment of incriminating evidence that millions of their airbags were defective. 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.”
Lillie reportedly told Takata executives that, “If we go forward with this, somebody will be killed.” But he was allegedly ignored and nearly two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries have been connected to Takata’s defective airbags.
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