In years past, lawyers handling product liability litigation involving the automobile industry were primarily concerned with visible defects in automobiles, such as faulty airbags, seatbelts, and cabs. Although these safety components are still important, and will continue to be a part of automobile litigation, there is a new “invisible defect” lurking on the horizon. With the recent and ongoing incorporation of electronic technologies into automobiles, lawyers like those in our firm can expect the focus of litigation to change. While new technology has, in some ways, made automobiles safer, this new technology also is causing safety problems for drivers and passengers. We believe that the wiring and sensors, the software, and the security concerns that come along with this technology will become the focus of future automobile product litigation.
It should be noted that modern cars contain more than three miles of wiring. Weighing in at heavier than 150 pounds, wiring is the third heaviest component in a car. Sensors are attached to these wires and measure physical conditions, such as impact, occupant presence in a seat, and seatbelt use. The sensor then reports this information to an electrical component that makes important safety decisions, such as whether to deploy an airbag. The most prominent wiring defect is its susceptibility to water accumulation, which can affect all sorts of important functions on your car. For instance, last year, Toyota recalled 2012-2013 vehicles because water accumulation was causing wiring to short circuit and resulting in airbags either not deploying when they were supposed to or inadvertently deploying. This water accumulation was also causing loss of power steering.
Software is the second major area of concern in modern auto litigation. Today, an average car has around 25 computers that are talking to each other and using the information they get from sensors to make safety decisions for the driver. The software that runs these computers can contain bugs that cause unwanted effects. An example of this is the Toyota unintended acceleration claims. Our firm recently handled one of these cases. In Bookout v. Toyota, lawyers in our firm’s Product Liability Section, Jere Beasley, Graham Esdale, Ben Baker and Cole Portis, successfully settled with Toyota after a jury found that the defective software in our client’s car caused unintended acceleration. Defective software is now prompting recalls from Honda and Toyota for unexpected braking.
The third, and perhaps the most frightening area of concern in automobile defects, is the potential for hacking. All computers are vulnerable to hacking. With an increase of computers being used to control cars, it is only logical that hackers will eventually find a way to control cars remotely without your permission. The security defects will surely lead to complex litigation against manufacturers in the future.
For Plaintiff’s lawyers, this means that we must stay alert to the possibility that accidents and injuries are not always caused by a visible defect in a car. We have to start looking beyond the physical damage of the car and into the electronics to make sure that the wiring, sensors, software and security in the car were not the real cause of the accident.
Lawyers in our firm have been heavily involved in Toyota’s Sudden Acceleration Litigation for several years. We learned a great deal during that litigation about the electronics issues. Our lawyers who handle products liability cases involving motor vehicles believe that this new area will create a great deal of litigation. We have developed the expertise in this area so that our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section can be ready for what’s coming.
If you have any questions concerning this topic, please contact our Personal Injury/Product Liability Section Head, Cole Portis, at Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com. Cole is involved in the Toyota and GM litigation and is totally familiar with this area of concern for the driving public.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.