Forest River, Inc., one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of recreational vehicles, commonly referred to as RVs, has been fined more than $600,000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In October 2014, NHTSA submitted a 10-page “Special Order Direct to Forest River, Inc.” According to the Order, NHTSA charged that Forest River was in violation of federal law and in violation of the early warning report (EWR) requirements, in violation of its statutory duty “to notify owners, purchasers and dealers, and in violation of its duty to file quarterly reports after it is determined that there was a safety-related defect in vehicles it manufactured.”
NHTSA also alleged in its Order that Forest River had committed some violations with respect to vehicle identification numbers. The Special Order required Forest River to provide, under oath, certain information requested by NHTSA to confirm violations or ensure compliance. The Order gave Forest River until Nov. 1, 2014, to respond. Even though Forest River did respond, it did so only in part (about one-third of the information requested was provided to NHTSA). Because of the violations, the fines (at $7,000 for days of violation) have amounted to approximately $616,000.
Forest River’s defense is one that lawyers in our firm hear quite often. The company contends that it cannot comply because the software vendor it used failed to install the appropriate software for tracking the information requested by NHTSA. In other words, Forest River is blaming its noncompliance on a third party, an unrelated business. Forest River contends that it realized it had not been submitting the information as required by federal law only after it received the Special Order from NHTSA. Forest River also contended that some of the requested information was privileged and did not have to be reported to the federal agency.
With respect to Forest River’s contentions, Kevin Vincent, Chief Counsel for NHTSA, had this to say in a letter dated Nov. 19, 2014:
This is unacceptable. We note that previous to issuing the Special Order to Forest River, staff from NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation repeatedly informed Forest River that it appeared that Forest River was not meeting its early warning reporting obligations. A purported software malfunction has no bearing on Forest River’s ability to provide the information requested by the Special Order.
At last report, NHTSA has turned this matter over to the US Justice Department to institute civil action against the company in federal court. It is unknown whether the Justice Department will seek action against Forest River for its noncompliance.
Sources: Elkharttruth.com, RV-Pro.com
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