Bill Would Criminalize Concealment of Danger

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have introduced legislation — the Hide No Harm Act — that would hold corporate officers criminally accountable if they knowingly conceal serious dangers that lead to consumer or worker deaths or injuries. Penalties would include jail time.

The bill comes in response to the recent General Motors recall scandal, in which an ignition switch defect was linked to at least 13 deaths.

Documents released by a congressional committee showed that some GM officials knew about problems with the device as early as 2001.

Under existing law, while the company eventually could face criminal fines, individual officers who knew about the deadly defect – but did not inform the public or federal regulators – cannot face any criminal charges.

Fines against an entire company often do not deter irresponsible actions that endanger the public.

On May 16, federal officials announced a paltry $35 million civil fine against GM.

Other cases in which corporate officers withheld information they knew about dangerous

products include the following:

* Merck withheld information on the risks of the arthritis drug Vioxx from doctors and patients for more than five years, resulting in up to 139,000 heart attacks;

* Simplicity Cribs sold products company officials knew were defective, leading to at least 11 baby’s death and many injuries; and

* Toyota officials knew that millions of cars it had sold had a defective gas pedal mechanism that could cause unintended acceleration – which had led to numerous fatal

collisions – yet the company failed to tell the public or federal regulators,  the company later admitted in a federal settlement.

“Our current fines and penalties are not tough enough to ensure that every business is playing by the same rules,” said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government and CSS co-chair. “We have to make sure that the businesses that are willing to put the health of the American people at risk face heavy sanctions. The bad actors should not have a competitive advantage over responsible businesses that adhere to health and safety standards.”

“Too many times, we’ve seen officials at companies decide to keep selling a dangerous product to consumers, knowing that even if they get caught, the penalties will be small,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and CSS co-chair. “This bill would protect the public because it would finally put formidable penalties on these rule-breakers and help deter them. Our regulatory system needs more teeth to ensure that companies take health and safety seriously.”

Peg Seminario, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO, told reporters that “countless numbers of workers and citizens have suffered and died because companies withheld and hid information on the dangers of products and exposures like asbestos. This bill would hold corporate officials personally responsible for their role in these deaths and injuries, help stop corporate concealment and save lives.”

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