The U.S. auto safety regulator announced on Tuesday its first-ever whistleblower award, handing out more than $24 million to a former Hyundai Motor Co. employee who provided key information about safety lapses at the South Korean carmaker.
The award to former Hyundai Motor engineer Kim Gwang-ho is the biggest ever in a whistleblower case in the auto sector globally, according to law firm Constantine Cannon, which represented the whistleblower.
It comes as the U.S. regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation prepare to propose regulations related to an automotive whistleblower program Congress created in 2015.
Kim reported to NHTSA in 2016 that Hyundai was failing to address a design flaw linked to its Theta II engines, which were prone to seizing up and even catching fire.
"This award is the maximum percentage allowed by law ... and is the first award NHTSA has issued under its authority," NHTSA said in a statement announcing the award.
"Whistleblowers play a crucial role in bringing information to NHTSA about serious safety problems that are hidden from the agency," said Steven Cliff, NHTSA's Deputy Administrator.