April 26, 2010

AAJ releases new report, “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Spurred Auto Safety Innovations”

The American Association for justice released a report regarding how litigation has spurred safety innovations in the automotive field. (April 2010). The thorough and intriguing report can be found here. In the wake of the highly public and disconcerting Toyota issues, automobile safety is back to being a “hot button” issue. At Hurley, McKenna, & Mertz, we feel strongly that manufacturers must be held liable for the injuries they have caused. Not only does this allow for just compensation to injured parties, but it also creates incentives for manufactures to take necessary safety precautions.

Following information suggesting that Toyota knew of the defects and sought to save money by limiting recalls, the automaker was slapped with the heftiest fine ever recorded against a car manufacture. Unfortunately, “after 50 deaths and 8.5 million recalled cars, this saga is yet another example of regulation as an incomplete safeguard and manufacturers that put profits over safety.” This circular scenario has been repeating itself for decades.

Up until the 1960s, “car manufacturers were only held liable for defects in construction that resulted in accidents and had largely avoided responsibility for defects in design.” Litigation has changed that landscape and has, for decades, been working “hand-in-hand with regulation to protect Americans, while spurring generations of safety innovations.”

Litigation will again play a critical role in identifying what really went wrong with Toyota. These findings pursuant to litigation will “aid regulators and legislators in protecting the American public in the future.” Holding manufacturers liable creates a mechanism by which safety precautions are induced in the manufacturing process.

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April 18, 2010

Toyota conducts safety tests on all SUV models

After Consumer Reports placed a “do not buy” warning on the 2010 Lexus GX460 this week, “Toyota announced safety tests on all its sport-utility vehicle models in a sweeping effort Thursday to reassure buyers” (AP, 4/15, Y. Kageyama). This is the latest in what has become the Toyota debacle that began last fall.

Acting quickly in response to the Consumer Reports warning, Toyota suspended all sales of the SUV in North America on Tuesday, probably in an effort to avoid criticism about acting too slowly, which contributed to the 16.4 Million dollar fine that automaker received. On Thursday, the automaker said the sales block would be extended to all markets while the vehicle underwent further testing.

Consumer Reports is a popular source for interested buyers due to its reputation for thorough testing and as being unbiased. The issue with the GX 460, “occurred during tests on its track. In a standard test, the driver approached a turn unusually fast, then released the accelerator pedal to simulate the response of an alarmed driver. This caused the rear of the vehicle to slide outward. Under normal circumstances, the electronic stability control should quickly correct the loss of control and keep the SUV on its intended path. But with the GX 460, the stability control took too long to adjust, which could cause a rollover accident if one of the sliding wheels were to strike the curb or another obstacle.”

As a products liability lawyer in Chicago, I am pleased to see Toyota’s quick response to this latest issue with its vehicles. Toyota’s reputation for high quality and safe cars has been harmed over the last several months, and if they intend to regain their previous status, acting quickly and taking care of potential problems is the best approach. Safety is the most important feature on any vehicle, and I encourage all buyers to research safety thoroughly before buying a car.

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April 11, 2010

Europeans warned of Toyota pedals well before US

In issuing a “record $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to alert the U.S. government to the safety problems quickly enough, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cited the warnings to the other countries. LaHood said Tuesday that Toyota made a "huge mistake" by not disclosing the safety problems sooner. (K. Thomas and L. Margasak, AP Washington, 4/7).

Documentation recently made public suggests that Toyota was aware of the accelerator problems long before U.S. regulators were made privy to them as European distributors were informed long before the U.S. As major concerns about sticking gas pedals in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009, documents “show that weeks earlier, on Sept. 29, its European division issued technical information identifying a production improvement and repair procedure to address complaints by customers in those countries of sticking accelerator pedals, sudden rpm increase and/or sudden vehicle acceleration."

Although Toyota is still deciding whether to accept or contest the fine, the Japanese automaker has a long trek of legal battles ahead as it has been named in approximately 140 potential class action lawsuits and an additional 100 or so personal injury and wrongful death cases in federal courts. As a personal injury and automobile accident attorney in Chicago, this information leads me to question the honesty of Toyota for knowingly failing to disclose potential problems to the United States. Doing so at an earlier date could have saved many lives, thus a hefty fine is a just manifestation of the frustration the U.S. has with the delay.

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April 11, 2010

Govt watchdog backs FAA whistle-blower

As a personal injury attorney, I am disturbed by the apparent lackadaisical approach American Airlines takes to safety regulations. I hope the FAA monitors the airline and others closely to ensure that safety requirements are being met to the utmost. This week, “safety inspector Douglas E. Peters testified before Congress about the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of American in 2008, when problems were spotted with the way electrical wires were secured on the airline's MD-80 aircraft. He said his bosses helped American keep using planes that didn't meet safety standards.” (Washington AP, 4/2). Federal officials, namely the Transportation Department’s inspector general, agree that American violated safety standards. However, the inspector general further concluded that the FAA was within its power to allow continued use of the planes while American got a second opinion about the wiring issue.

Although maybe within its authority, the decision to allow continued use of the jets created a perception among employees that the FAA was aiding American to avoid ground planes that should be grounded, hence the “whistle blowing” complaint. In response to the light shed upon the situation, “the FAA is considering a fine against American that could run into millions of dollars.”

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April 4, 2010

FAA issues safety warning for kit- made planes

Federal officials issued a warning this week regarding “high-performance homemade planes like the one that killed a beach jogger last week in South Carolina are likely to stall at higher speeds and have been involved in a disproportionately large number of fatal accidents.” (J. Lowry, Washington AP, 3/25).

The FAA warning this week cautioned pilots that the Lancair, “which is built from kits, and others like it are apt to stall at speeds higher that 61 mph.” The agency also noted that the fact that amateurs build the planes increases the risk for fatal mistakes.

As a personal injury lawyer, I am weary of kit-made planes as the risk of error in assembly or operation by amateur is astronomical. I strongly encourage consumers not to take on such a grave risk without the proper knowledge for safely undertaking flight.

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