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NHTSA fines Ford $17.35 million for failing to timely warn of defects

Craig McClellan

Another company has been "slapped with an NHTSA fine" for failing to notify customers of a defect. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), it seems, is more than willing to make automakers pay for putting safety over profits. And, as any personal injury attorney who has represented countless people injured by auto defects will tell you: It's a good thing.

The NHTSA fined Ford Motor Co. $17.35 million for failing to timely notify customers of defects in its 2001-2004 Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes (which it co-developed with Mazda). The defects caused some accelerators to remain depressed even as drivers took their feet off the gas.

Under the U.S. Safety Act, auto manufacturers who learn of a defect in one of their vehicles must notify the NHTSA of the defect within five days of the discovery. Furthermore, they must issue a prompt recall to prevent injury from the known defect.

The fine comes out of a settlement between the NHTSA and Ford, which wanted to avoid both protracted litigation and admitting fault, but Ford is not getting off lightly: $17.35 million is currently the maximum fine allowed under federal regulations, but is expected to increase to $35 million in October 2013.

Ford is certainly not the first car manufacturer to face scrutiny by the NHTSA and fines for failing to timely warn of defects. Last year, Toyota paid the same fine for failing to timely recall its Lexus SUVs for a similar problem: The vehicles' gas pedals could lodge under the floor mats, causing unintended acceleration.

These settlements between auto manufacturers and the NHTSA do not preclude individuals from filing auto defect lawsuits against the companies for injuries and deaths caused by the defects. They simply punish the auto manufacturers' for their actions or inactions and set a strict tone: We will not accept companies that sweep defects under the carpet and refuse to put customer safety above all else.

Source: The Detroit News, "Ford pays NHTSA $17.35M fine over recall issue," Karl Henkel, Aug. 1, 2013