Customers and citizens throughout the United States are in an uproar over the latest revelations about the abhorrent conduct of Toyota motor company. First, we learned that Toyota waited at least four months, after learning that its accelerators could become stuck, before informing U.S. authorities. Then, it came to light that Toyota waited at least a year, after learning of a dangerous defect in SUV and pickup steering systems which can can cause drivers to lose control of the vehicle, before informing U.S. authorities and issuing a recall. Thus, the purpose of personal injury litigation.
Although customers are currently outraged at Toyota for its conduct, the simple truth is that Toyota’s actions are part of a larger pattern. Again and again, automakers (and other companies) absolutely refuse to consider the safety of customers and the public. Only when civil litigation – including both compensatory and punitive damages – force these companies into action will they correct dangerous designs or defects, or put in place basic safety precautions. That’s why top Chicago personal injury attorneys and products liability lawyers like those at Passen & Powell are so important. Without lawsuits, these dangerous products, whether automobiles, drugs, or others, would be allowed to remain on the market.
Another prime example is unsafe power windows. So-called “rocker” switches, or push-down switches, which caused windows to close when the button was pressed, were exceedingly dangerous to children. That’s why foreign governments had rules governing power windows and prohibiting the use of such switches. The U.S. government, however, had no such rule or regulation. This was true even though the problem was well known: for instance, in three months in 2004, power windows caused the deaths of at least seven children.
Yet automakers continued to use these dangerous switches on power windows in U.S. cars, even though they used safer options for their foreign versions of the same vehicles. It was not until product liability litigation made the automakers pay that they chose to install safe power windows here in the U.S., as well.
This same story played out in yet another context in the “illusory park” transmissions of Chrysler, Dodge, and Ford vehicles produced throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This known defect caused drivers to think that they had secured their vehicle when, in fact, the car’s transmission did not recognize that it was in “park.” Over the course of years, this transmission defect caused at least 90 known injuries and deaths.
This included one well-known incident where a mother, pregnant with twins, placed her Dodge minivan in “park” with her four-year-old daughter inside. When the vehicle began to roll away, the mother attempted to stop it. She was crushed and killed in the attempt.
When litigation was brought, the lawyers uncovered the sad, yet predictable truth: Ford engineers had been aware of the defect since at least 1971, but had done nothing. Only after losing two civil lawsuits did the company finally correct the defective design.
This repeating pattern of misconduct by automakers (although certainly not unique to the auto industry) illustrates why the U.S. justice system is so important. Only when those who suffer injuries come forward and make these companies pay are they willing to do the right thing. If you or someone you love has been injured or killed and you suspect that a design defect may be to blame, our Chicago wrongful death lawyers can help you to investigate the circumstances of your injury, and decide whether to file a civil action. Your courage may be all that stands between the next customer and injury or death.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago car accident attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.