Lawyers in our firm are preparing for trial in a case involving the unintended acceleration of a Volkswagen Passat turbo diesel. Similar to many other unintended acceleration cases, the Passat in our case appeared to be operating normally before it suddenly began increasing speed even after the driver removed her foot from the accelerator. Unfortunately, although the driver attempted to bring the Passat under control, the event ended in a crash and catastrophic injuries. Unlike some other acceleration cases, however, the cause of the acceleration in our case does not appear to be related to a faulty “drive-by-wire” electronic throttle. Rather, our vehicle was designed in such a way that over time a component of the turbocharger system accumulated engine oil that later acted as a secondary fuel source.
Because our vehicle was a diesel, the combustion process operates differently from a typical gasoline engine. A diesel does not require a “set” fuel-air ratio and as a result will continue to operate even if the fuel mix is extremely rich. Additionally, because our vehicle was equipped with a turbocharger (intended to squeeze more horsepower out of a smaller engine), it was also equipped with an intercooler, which operates to cool down hot air exiting a turbocharger before it is fed into the engine intake.
Unfortunately, one of the internal seals in our turbocharger was gradually leaking over time and allowing engine oil to escape into the exiting air flow. The accumulating engine oil built up in the intercooler until it reached such a volume that it began to be pulled into the engine intake and acted as a secondary fuel source. As a result, even though the driver removed her foot from the accelerator, the Passat continued to pull oil from the intercooler and continued to accelerate.
In order to test the effect of engine oil ingested into the intake, we purchased a similar Passat and conducted a series of tests. In one of the tests, a volume of engine oil was injected directly into the engine intake system and the engine accelerated without any input from the accelerator pedal. Incredibly, during the test the key was turned off and the Passat continued to accelerate! We also learned that, although publicly available specifications show the Passat should produce around 100 horsepower, when it ingests engine oil the Passat produces much more power than running on diesel fuel alone. That creates a hazard and a dangerous condition.
This case, pending in Federal Court in Columbus, Ga., will be set for trial very soon. We anticipate a lengthy trial. But considering that our client suffered such catastrophic injuries, and because the evidence is clear that a defective vehicle is responsible for the crash, we believe this is a most worthy case to take to trial. Additionally, with all the GM news over faulty ignition switches, consumers are more aware than ever that vehicles will malfunction even when car makers claim they meet all of the federal standards. Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, whose specialty is in product liability litigation, is the lead lawyer in this case. We will keep you updated as this case proceeds to trial.
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