Corporate executives who knowingly conceal defective products that harm consumers would be criminally liable and face prison time under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton.
Casey, D-Scranton, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumentha, D-Conn., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said they proposed the bill called the Hide No Harm Act of 2014 after General Motors kept secret for nearly a decade defective ignition switches in several of their vehicles before issuing a nationwide recall.
Locally, Damon Szatkowski, 20, and his mother, Karen, of Dallas, filed a lawsuit in Luzerne County Court on Monday against GM and a GM dealership alleging the 2006 Pontiac Solstice he was driving had a faulty ignition switch. Szatkowski, then 17, was driving the Pontiac when it suddenly lost power and veered into a retaining wall in Luzerne on Dec. 3, 2011.
Szatkowski suffered severe and permanent brain and physical injuries. The lawsuit was filed by Casey’s brother, attorney Matt Casey of the Philadelphia-based Ross Feller Casey LLP.
The Pontiac Solstice was one of several GM vehicles recalled in 2014.
Casey, Blumentha and Harkin announced the legislation at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a day before General Motors corporate officials are scheduled to testify before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee.
“You would hope that in most instances, a corporate officer just like any citizen when they see a defect or a problem or a danger that is posed would in fact be summoned by their conscious to do something about it when they know there is a high likelihood their failure to act would lead to injury or death or harm to another human being,” Casey said.
“Unfortunately there are folks in our country, many of them tend to be in leadership positions, who for whatever reason is not summoned by their conscious so what this legislation would do is to impose a measure of accountability which we shouldn’t have to impose; they should do on their own,” Casey added.
Casey and Blumentha said GM officers knew as early as 2004 about the defective ignition switches.
If the legislation becomes law, penalties call for up to five years in prison and fines.
“If a corporate officer knows of a defect in a product that could cause harm to consumers or workers and fails to act then that officer should be held fully accountable by law,” Casey said. “The problems with the ignition switch in GM vehicles have had a significant impact on Pennsylvania families. It’s not enough for GM to say it’s sorry. We have to reform our laws so that those with the power to act are held accountable when they don’t.”