V.I. Attorney General Denise George said the local government has reached “an out of court settlement” with automaker Honda that includes a fleet of 50 new vehicles, according to a press release issued Wednesday night.
The settlement is the result of “a 2016 enforcement lawsuit the V.I. Government filed against Honda for engaging in a pattern of unlawful practices in connection with the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of the dangerous Takata airbags installed in vehicles sold to Virgin Islands consumers, in violation of local consumer laws,” according to the press release.
On Wednesday, The Daily News asked V.I. Justice Department spokeswoman Sandra Goomansingh for insight into how and why the deal was negotiated to include a fleet of vehicles for the government.
Virgin Islands consumers were harmed by the defective airbags, but the V.I. government reaped the vast majority of the reward. Goomansingh did not respond to an inquiry about why the government received cash and vehicles as compensation, and not the harmed parties.
The Daily News also requested a copy of the settlement agreement, which was denied.
“The details of settlement negotiations are confidential and require the weighing of many factors on both sides to arrive at the final settlement,” Goomansingh said in an email Wednesday.
Former V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker said in an email Friday that, “I would not have copies of any settlement agreement and have no comment on this matter.”
The V.I. government filed the civil CICO enforcement and consumer protection lawsuit against Honda and Takata in 2016, and “as part of the settlement, Honda agreed to provide the Virgin Islands approximately 50 new Honda vehicles valued at over $2.1 million in addition to a payment of over $1 million to the Virgin Islands government in the CICO and consumer lawsuit,” according to the news release.
In 2018, it was announced that up to 2,500 V.I. residents would split $500,000 from Takata as part of a settlement with the non-defunct airbag manufacturer.
Vehicles have been assigned to the Justice Department, Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Motor Vehicles Bureau and Inspector General’s Office. Licensing and Consumer Affairs and Motor Vehicles were participants in reaching the settlement.
“Although the terms of the settlement were substantially negotiated before I came on board as attorney general, I am pleased to have finalized what I deem to be a great settlement for the GVI,” George said. The vehicles “will help to satisfy agency vehicle needs through replacing or building the fleet without the associated purchase price while saving on the costs of maintaining the older existing vehicles.
“Overall, the entire settlement proceeds will provide much-needed funds for criminal, white-collar and consumer investigations, prosecutions, and litigation support,” George said.
Takata’s airbags were part of the largest recall in automotive history, involving more than 40 million vehicles in the U.S. and a $1 billion criminal plea agreement with the federal Justice Department, according to the V.I. Justice Department.
More than 200 Takata airbags exploded violently, “sending shrapnel throughout the vehicles and causing severe injuries and more than 20 deaths worldwide. One Virgin Islands resident was gravely injured when her Takata airbag ruptured while she was driving with her children in her car on St. Croix,” according to the press release.
Virgin Islands residents are particularly at risk because of the local climate which can accelerate the breakdown of the chemical propellant used in Takata airbags and cause them to explode.
To see if your vehicle has been recalled, visit www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/ or to contact your car dealer.