Unsafe at Any Speed: Being a Safe Driver is Only Part of the Challenge

Unsafe at Any Speed: Being a Safe Driver is Only Part of the Challenge

 Posted by:    Feb 14, 2010  


Last week, I listened to top American and Japanese executives express remorse over the defective gas pedal acceleration issue which appears to plague nearly all of Toyota's recently built models. It got me thinking about how this story developed.

A PATTERN

Some years ago, a small number, but remarkably similar, complaints were reported by Toyota owners. These complaints included sudden acceleration, braking delay, or both, resulting in injuries and deaths. Over the next several years, I must have talked to half a dozen or more people who personally reported that they themselves or a family member had an unexplained acceleration or failure of the brakes in their Toyota, resulting in an automobile accident. However, Toyota claimed to be investigating each alleged occurrence with impressive black box data, and a team of well-qualified scientists and engineers. In actuality, Toyota used fancy engineering terms in denying the existence of any problem and cited driver error as the plausible counter-explanation for the wreck.

AN APOLOGY

Despite spending years insisting that these problems were mechanically impossible, in the summer of 2009, Toyota announced that the driver's car mats in certain models "may" be causing "the problem." But in an even more provocative move, last week, Toyota announced that a recall was necessary of many models to add a component to the accelerator pedal to address what Toyota now calls a "stickiness concern" related to the gas pedal which "might" over time cause the vehicle to "unexpectedly accelerate."

A RECALL

On the Today Show early last week, the United States Division President of Toyota, Jim Lentz, expressed remorse for the problem which he claimed only became known to the company in October, AFTER announcing (perhaps erroneously) that the floor mats might be the culprit. He said it was more likely that a missing component to the gas pedal either in addition to the floor mat issue or separately "might" be causing or contributing to the "stickiness." He went on to identify (without seemingly blinking even once) that it could NOT be an electrical problem causing this "sudden acceleration, or delay reported in brake response" as there are fail safe systems on top of fail safe other systems that prevent this from being caused in the electrical system. Of course, later in the week, the grandson of the founder of Toyota, CEO Akio Toyoda (yes, the company changed its name slightly from it's founder in the 1930's) expressed his remorse to his customers.

Most recently, Toyota announced an additional concern with the "software" in the Toyota Prius and Lexus Hybrid which also might explain the delay in brake response in those vehicles. So, accordingly, Toyota drivers can take comfort in the fact that it is "not the electrical system," but instead perhaps a software glitch that explains these many injuries and deaths in addition to floor mats, and a sticky accelerator, that Toyota has been denying the mechanical viability of for years.

Thus far, United States media reaction has been consumed with the nature of apologies from the corporate officers and how unusual it is for a Japanese executive to make such an apology. However, when the shock waves of these concessions pass, I expect to hear words like corporate conspiracy, fraud, deception, and finally criminal prosecution.

LESSONS FROM HISTORY

These events cause me to recall my very small legal role in a famous case against General Motors ("GM") from the 1980's. Back then, it was discovered that GM had learned that its 1970's model van had an automatic transmission that would, without prompting, slip out of park and move into reverse. This resulted in unattended vehicles, often with engines running, becoming very dangerous safety risks for anyone in the proximate vicinity of such an occurrence. In fact, fire and police agencies were regularly reporting such events for years before any acknowledgments were made. Each was met with an official denial of fault.

However, even at the time of these well-explained and what appeared to be plausible engineering-based denials of responsibility, GM was aware of the genesis of the problem and the safety risks associated with it. As I recall, the cost for the proposed fix was about $15 per vehicle. GM, despite being aware of the risk of human lives being lost or destroyed, felt the cost of the fix was simply too expensive.

Some years after that unfortunate decision, I remember meeting a 23-year-old mechanic who was one of many who suffered the effects of GM's secret. That young person was paralyzed just below the jaw. GM's secret cover up stayed secret until the lawyers I worked with uncovered the deceit. The evidence that exposed what GM knew and when they knew it came out of masses of documents turned over by GM after the Court ordered them to produce the documents.

Being a student of history, I am reminded that the Ford Pinto had a known tendencyto explode on mild rear impacts. Futhermore, Ford's knowledge of the problem was so complete that they had internal documents that made an actuarial assessment that it would be cheaper to pay the few surviving victims who had the guts to sue AND who managed to find a lawyer that had the smarts to discover the KNOWN problem than it would be to fix the problem and make the car safe. Again, documents stated all of this clearly and they were discovered through court-ordered document production.

THE GAME CHANGERS

With companies building unsafe products who then hide behind branding, advertisement and public relations firms, I am left wondering how it is possible that trial attorneys ever managed to get such sinister reputations in the pool of public sentiment?

Fundamentally, what separates mega companies like Toyota from others (particularly trial lawyers) is their financial ability to hire Madison Avenue advertisers, public relations firms, and defense lawyers and their ability to spend generously to commission well-controlled studies with well-controlled results that can then be published as "facts."

But what gives the public a chance at invoking real corporate change and responsibility is the trial lawyer.

When the last chapter is written on Toyota and this "unwanted acceleration/delay in brake reaction" scandal, in my view it will be determined that hundreds of people needlessly died, thousands of people needlessly were injured and it will be the trial attorneys who will bring to light the full extent of this scandal.

Furthermore, while Japanese companies are fond of claiming in US product liability litigation that they maintained no engineering vehicle testing documentation, it will be these trial lawyers and the court orders they receive granting document production that will prove the full extent of Toyota's breach of public trust.

While driving safely is always a start, car manufacturers prove time and time again that if given a chance to make money and breach the public's trust, they will. Truly, driving safely is simply not enough to assure safety.

At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn we look forward to speaking with you about these issues. If you have concerns about the safety of your vehicle and are hurt as the result of someone else's negligence, please call and speak with one of our attorneys today.









Current Post Comments


Quick & Easy Contact

Are You a Robot? - Help

Review Us Online

Review Anderson Hemmat on Google Plus
Review Anderson Hemmat on Facebook
Review Anderson Hemmat on Lawyers.com
Review Anderson Hemmat on Yelp
Review Anderson Hemmat on AVVO
Talk to Anderson Hemmat Past Clients

Firm Associations

  • Featured in Super Lawyer Magazine
    Featured in Super Lawyers
  • AV Preeminent Rating 2017
    AV Peer Review Rated
  • Colorado Supreme Court
    Colorado Supreme Court
  • AVVO Rated Law Firm
    AVVO 10.0 Rated Law Firm
  • Colorado Trial Lawyers Association
    Colorado Trial Lawyers Association
  • Colorado Bar Association
    Colorado Bar Association
  • National Trial Lawyers
    National Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
    American Association for Justice
  • American Institute of Legal Counsel
    American Institute of Legal Counsel
  • Find Law
    Featured on Find Law
  • ASLA
    American Society of Legal Advocates
  • CATL
    Class Action Trial Lawyers Association
  • Rue Rated Attorneys
    Rue Rated Attorneys
  • Justia
    Justia Member
  • Million Dollar Advocates Forums
    Million Dollar Advocates Forums
  • lawyers.com
    Featured on www.lawyers.com
  • NAOPIA
    National Academy of P.I. Attorneys
  • NOLO
    NOLO
  • hg.org
    Featured on www.hg.org
  • Top American Lawyers Association
    Top American Lawyers Association
  • Best Law Firms of America
    Best Law Firms of America
  • Trial Masters
    Trial Masters Member

Blog Post Archive

INJURY LAW UPDATES

Captcha Image
Anderson Hemmat L.L.C.
5613 DTC Pkwy #150 Greenwood Village , CO 80111
Phone: (303) 782-9999

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information on this website is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

Copyright © Anderson Hemmat L.L.C. | By +Chad Hemmat | Denver Accident Injury Attorneys | Personal Injury Blog | About Anderson Hemmat L.L.C. | Privacy

Anderson Hemmat Logo

Secure Client Area Login




Lost your password? Click here to reset it...

Anderson Hemmat Logo

Reset Your Password