Litigation in cases where a defective product is the culprit has been a significant factor in making automobiles safer, according to legal and safety experts. Lawsuits brought by victims are credited with such innovations as impact-absorbing dashboards and steering columns, and gas tanks that won’t explode when an automobile is rear-ended. A prime example of the effect of defective product litigation involves what happened after the problems of the Ford Pinto were revealed because of the lawsuits. Now all cars are designed to take at least a 50-mph rear-end crash. Thousands of lives have been saved as a result.
Perhaps the best example of how a carmaker and NHTSA, having known about a most serious safety problem and still failing to solve it, involves the massive safety problems now being revealed at Toyota. The sudden acceleration issue, which has caused a great number of deaths and resulted in massive recalls, was known both by the carmaker and NHTSA for several years. Yet, nothing was done by either to address and solve the problem. Now Toyota will be forced to do what it should have done years ago to resolve the safety problems and also to inform the public of what they should have known several years ago.
Ben Kelley, who worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and is recognized as a pioneer in motor vehicle safety research at the highly-respected Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, had this to say:
The courts then (after some early litigation) became a much more active place for Plaintiffs and their attorneys to come with claims of injury caused by insufficient crash-worthiness design. During the 1970s and 1980s, litigation was watched keenly by manufacturers and regulators as a kind of early warning system on safety defects.
You can trace the progress in vehicle design safety, as the result of litigation, that has been made beginning in the 1970s right up to the present relating to design changes in cars, SUVs and trucks. Such things as improved seat belt systems and seat backs in vehicles, which were the direct result of lawsuits involving death or disabling injuries, have made vehicles safer. All of this is why it’s critically important to preserve a fair and independent court system in this country.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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