Auto Defect Whistleblower Bill Passed by Panel

WASHINGTON (Detroit Free Press/TNS) -

A Senate committee on Thursday approved legislation that would pay awards to employees and contractors who tip off the federal government about motor-vehicle defects or violations of law that may result in death or injury.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was passed by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which he chairs. It will next be considered by the full Senate.

The legislation comes after massive recalls involving General Motors vehicles for an ignition-switch defect and autos with certain kinds of Takata air bags that can rupture. It would pay up to 30 percent of the monetary sanctions levied against an automaker or supplier to whistleblowers providing information.

The provision would apply to cases in which the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million and would only be available to whistleblowers working for or contracting with the automaker, supplier or dealership who report defects or other violations to federal officials.

No award would be available for any whistleblower who substantially contributed to the defect or violation or failed to make it known to the automaker or supplier. The award would only apply to original information from the whistleblower and not information that should have otherwise been reported or otherwise been made available to federal officials.