Automobile Accidents – Defects in manufacturing or product design are something that is basically inherent to any product. No matter what the manufacturer says, no product is 100 percent guaranteed. While many products can have safety issues, such as the risk of fire with electrical products, manufacturing and design defects in cars get the most attention and for good reason, the opportunity for severe injury and death in a car accident remains extremely high. More than 30,000 people die each year in automobile accidents. More than two million are injured. According to the Center for Disease Control, 46% of all spinal cord injuries are the result of automobile accidents as well as the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury at 17.3 percent.
While defects in automotive manufacturing and product design are not the leading cause of automobile accidents, there have been instances, some quite shocking where defects and poor design have played a part. In 1966 the United States Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act as well as the Highway Safety Act that also established the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. Up until that point, the Federal government had not paid much attention to regulating safety in motor vehicles or highway design for that matter. The act resulted in safety oriented design standards that are commonplace today including seat belts, head rests, padded and shock absorbing dashboards and steering wheels and shatter-resistant windshields. This along with changes in highway design almost immediately impacted the accident and death rate with notable decreases in both.
Despite these regulations automobile manufacturers continued to choose cost saving over safety. One of the most famous cases involved the Ford Pinto, where a 1972 collision where a Pinto was struck from behind at 28 miles per hour and due to a defect the gas tank ruptured and exploded killing the driver and severely burning a passenger. The litigation went on for years, but during the litigation a memo to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that the auto maker felt it would be cheaper to settle lawsuits than fix the problem. The Pinto was eventually named by several publications as one of the worst cars of all time.
More recently in 2009 through 2011, Toyotas were recalled in three separate occasions for problems with sudden unintended acceleration and also for problems with the anti-locking braking software. Audi also experienced problems with unintended acceleration. General Motors was also subject to a suit for defective speedometers and other instrument cluster gauges. Over the past three decades there have been numerous instances of crashes involving stability, particularly of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVS) which would roll over and the roof would crush, causing major injury or death to thousands of people. The beginning of this century saw the recall of Firestone tires used on Ford vehicles which had high failure rates resulting in more than 3,000 injuries and 250 deaths. Bridgestone, which is connected to Firestone has also had a high amount of recalls up to and including 2012. The tire recalls also include other major tire manufacturers as well such as Goodyear and Michelin.
The NHTSA defines safety related defects as: “A problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that poses an risk to motor vehicle safety, and may exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture.”
While there are many resources available concerning automobile product liability, proving it is not necessarily a simple matter. If you lost a family member or loved one or suffered injuries due to a car accident involving manufacturing defects or poor design, contact Austin Freundlich and Gregory Littman for a case evaluation and free consultation.