Contact: Jamie Hammon
American Association for Justice
AAJ Press Room
Civil Justice System Spurs Auto Safety Innovation
New AAJ report shows how design defect litigation has led to safer vehicles
Washington D.C.—As the fallout from Toyota’s sudden acceleration fiasco continues, a new report released today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) illustrates how similar vehicle design defects, when brought to light by the civil justice system, have spurred innovations in auto safety.
The report explains that since the 1960s, design defect litigation has enforced safety standards, revealed previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses, and deterred manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits.
“Runaway Toyotas may be front-and-center today, but unfortunately, this scenario has been repeating itself for decades,” said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone. “And if history is any judge, the litigation brought against Toyota will inevitably make the company more responsible and responsive to problems, and ultimately safer for consumers.”
For example, auto safety litigation was critical in forcing American manufacturers to install safer power window controls following multiple deaths of children. While a Texas mother spoke with her husband through the driver’s side window of a Ford F-150, her three-year old daughter leaned out of the passenger’s side window and accidentally hit the “rocker” style switch, causing the window to close and strangling the child to death.
Manufacturers were well aware of the risks of rocker switches inadvertently closing if a child leaned on one (in 2004, seven children died in the span of three months) and even installed safer “pull-up” switches in the cars they offered to foreign markets. But it took litigation for manufacturers to install safer switches in domestic cars, since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had no rules governing power window safety.
Other safety improvements included in the report that were promoted by the civil justice system include life-saving repairs to vehicle gas tanks, seat belts, side impact design, roof strength, tires, electronic stability control, door latches, air bags, power windows and seats.
The report, entitled “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Has Spurred Auto Safety Innovations,” can be found at www.justice.org/autosafety.