It’s always interesting to hear the perceptions or the misconceptions that the public has when it comes to personal injury attorneys. Some people view personal injury attorneys as “sue-happy” or “ambulance chasers”, while others picture a scene out of a John Grisham novel. Often, the media and public opinion give car manufacturers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the discovery and disclosure of information relating to the risks a dangerous motor vehicle. However, time after time, investigation has proven that the car manufacturers are aware of the dangers associated with the design flaw but choose to do nothing. In the 1970’s Ford Pinto recall, allegations were made that Ford decided that it would be cheaper to pay the victims of accidents caused by the gas tank defect rather than to issue a recall. The simple truth is most car and truck manufacturers do not issue recalls and correct the design flaw until it hurts their bottom line―and that is usually the result of litigation.
Some of the dangerous or defective motor vehicle cases taken on by personal injury attorneys can take years of investigation before they actually get to court, and the end results will often have a larger impact on society than most people realize.
Image Source: American Association for Justice
#1 – Gas Tanks
In one of the most infamous motor vehicle recalls, and on more than one occasion, GM has designed and sold vehicles with less-than-stellar gas tank locations. Between 1973 and 1983, the company was inundated with lawsuits when it was discovered that the placement of the gas tanks made their Chevrolet trucks susceptible to fires and explosions. While they did not voluntarily issue a recall, they have paid out more than $500 million in settlements to burn victims. According to Logan Robinson, former general counsel for Chrysler, litigation caused manufacturers to redesign the placement of gas tanks, and “now, most all cars are designed to take at least a 50-mph hit.”
#2 – Door Latches
Since at least 1997, Ford had been having issues with their paddle-style door handles which would cause the handles to release when met with minimal force. In 2000, The Ford engineers traced the problem back to defective springs in the door handle, which affected more than 4 million vehicles. Instead of issuing a recall, Ford found an alternative crash test that the handles would likely pass. As a result, the door handles had a tendency to release upon impact, opening the doors during a collision. This exact scenario happened to Deborah Seliner who was thrown 20 feet from her Ford pick-up after the driver’s side door opened, causing injuries that left her paralyzed from the chest, down. Her case was settled 30 days prior to the trial date.
#3 – Electronic Stability Control
Electronic Stability Control is a safety feature that was prompted in part by litigation surrounding the Ford Bronco II and the Explorer – both SUV’s were more than twice as likely to rollover than other SUV’s. As a result of this and other SUV litigation cases, there has been an increased emphasis on the development of Electronic Stability Control, which introduced the anti-lock braking systems that we have in vehicles today.
#4 – Air Bags
Although the technology has been around since the 1950’s, air bags were still only being installed in 2% of vehicles in 1988. Beginning in 1990, the Federal Government made it a requirement that all new vehicles be manufactured with air bags.
#5 – Illusory Park
Chrysler and Ford were 2 manufacturers that experienced issues with transmissions “slipping” out of park and rolling away. At least 90 injuries and deaths were reported as a result of this defect, and after multiple lawsuits, Chrysler recalled more than 150,000 Dodge Dakotas in 2000.
#6 – Tires
Defective tires on Ford Explorers caused the tire’s tread to split open, often as the vehicles were traveling at high speeds. At least 271 deaths were reported due to this issue, and after a series of lawsuits, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the issue. In August of 2000, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires.
#7 – Side Impact Protection
Richard Dawson, a police officer, struck a steel pole with the side of his vehicle at 26 miles-per-hour, and was left paralyzed. It was found that the pole would have continued sliding along the car body, causing little to no injury, if it weren’t for the 17-inch gap in the frame of the vehicle. During the lawsuit, the court held Chrysler responsible for the defective design and as a result, manufactures now build vehicle frames with stiff and solid designs, offering more protection during a crash.
#8 – Seats
After being rear-ended by a pickup traveling less than 25 miles-per-hour, Kevin Gleason’s seat collapsed backwards, killing his 5 year old daughter who was sitting in the back seat. As a result of this lawsuit, as well as others around the country, seats are now required to be stronger, withstand more force, and have added safety innovations.
#9 – Seat Belts
Multiple court cases highlight the inefficiencies of the Gen 3 seat belt model used by Chrysler in more than 14 million cars and minivans. This model, as pictured below next to a Gen 2 model, has a button that protrudes over the button cover, allowing it to be pressed by loose objects during a crash. As a response to litigation, Chrysler, along with most vehicle manufacturers, made major safety improvements to their seat belts and seat backs.
Left: Gen 2; Right: Gen 3.
#10 – Power Windows
Power windows were an incredible innovation, and a much needed improvement from the difficult roll-up windows. However, when power windows were first introduced, manufacturers used a “rocker-style” switch, which proved to be easily used by children and resulted in multiple child deaths and injuries. As a result of these injuries and the litigation that followed, manufacturers now use a safer “lever-style” switch that requires the switch to be pulled upward in order to close. Child Safety groups are now advocating for further safety features (anti-pinch and auto-reverse) to be installed in these power windows.
#11 – Roof Crush
As far back as the 1960s, manufacturers have known that the roof strength in their cars was inadequate. After one case, in which a passenger was crushed due to the roof of their Buick collapsing, the court held that “it is the obligation of automobile manufacturers to provide more than a movable platform capable of transporting passengers from one point to another.” In another case, Penny Shipler was left paralyzed after the roof of her Chevy Blazer collapsed more than 8 inches during a rollover accident. Resulting from these cases, NHTSA has recently updated their roof-crush regulation requirements, making the first significant update to this regulation in 38 years.
While these governmental regulations have come a long way in providing superior consumer safety, the process to update federal regulation is often slow moving and inundated with political agendas. However, the federal safety standards, along with the work of Personal Injury attorneys, are at work to make vehicles safer. Through litigation, safety standards are being enforced, previously concealed defects are being revealed, and regulatory weaknesses are being updated – ultimately encouraging manufacturers to design and create safer vehicles across the board.
If you’ve sustained an injury resulting from defective motor vehicle equipment, the Denver car accident attorneys at The Bendinelli Law Firm have the understanding, knowledge and experience necessary for these complex cases. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation – with offices conveniently located in the Denver Metro area and Westminster, we’ll help you get the help you need.