Automobile products liability
When a person makes a claim for personal injury damages which have resulted from the presence of a dangerous or defective automobile, he asserts a Product Liability claim against the automobile's manufacturer and/or the manufacturer of the component part or system.
- 1 History
- 2 Current defects of concern
- 2.1 Unintended acceleration
- 2.2 Stability - rollovers and roof crush
- 2.3 Risk of rollover - instability of vehicle under foreseeable conditions
- 2.4 Roof crush - major cause of serious injury and deaths
- 2.5 Keeping occupants in their seats
- 2.6 Protecting occupants from striking parts of the car
- 2.7 Containment of occupants in the car
- 2.8 Tires / tyres
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
A major foundation for modern awareness of the defects found in automobiles was laid when Ralph Nader published his book Unsafe at Any Speed about the Chevrolet Corvair and defects found in other vehicles. A focus of this book was the car manufacturers' intentional choice of saving a few dollars for each car instead of providing safe design and manufacture of their products, as well as avoiding the adding of devices which would protect car occupants from injury.
The Ford Pinto gas tank cases present another instance of saving money at the cost of serious injury to consumers. In Grimshaw v Ford (1981) 119 Cal.App.3d 757, 174 Cal. Rptr. 348, the California Court of Appeal upheld a jury verdict of $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages (reduced to $3.5 million by the trial court as a condition of denying a motion for new trial). The jury found that Ford Motor Company had known about the unsafe design of the gas tank used in the Pinto, and that this design was an intentional choice by Ford which decided to use a cheaper design which knowingly greatly increased the risk of fire in a rear-impact accident, rather than a more expensive design which would have prevented the death of an occupant.
Current defects of concern
Unintended acceleration reports resulted in poor publicity for the Audi 5000 in the United States, and more recently in a massive 2010 Toyota Vehicle Recall and suspension of production and sales of many of the most popular Toyota models.
Stability - rollovers and roof crush
During the 1990s and early 2000s, there was an epidemic of accidents which involved the truck's or car's rolling over as a part of the behavior of the car in the incident. More concerning was the increasing number of "single car accidents" which involved rollovers.
Risk of rollover - instability of vehicle under foreseeable conditions
The National Transportation Safety has recognized the danger of rollovers, and the prevalence of rollovers as a result of the defect created by the design of many SUVs. NHTSA has actively campaigned against this design defect  and has adopted and promoted its Rollover Resistance Safety Rating, and has actively promoted the adoption of Electronic Stability Control systems.
Roof crush - major cause of serious injury and deaths
Roof crush injury risks are higher in vehicles with a greater propensity to roll over. Because they are taller and narrower, SUVs, or sports utility vehicles, are three times more likely to roll over in an accident than are other passenger cars. In 1973, the government passed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216, creating a standard roof strength test to measure the integrity of roof structure in motor vehicles. Roof pillars appear strong to the average consumer, but most of them consist of just sheet metal that is hollow on the inside at the cross sections. Much safer designs exist, at little cost, to reinforce these pillars. Despite federal standards, many vehicle roofs will easily crush a foot or more during a rollover accident. Roof crush injury is most often the result of rollover automobile accidents. Roof crush kills or seriously injures tens of thousands of people every year. Vehicle design is supposed to depend on a structural support system that creates a "survival space" that protects car occupants in a crash from injury due to roof crush. A weak roof makes a vehicle defective, and roof crushes can cause serious and fatal injuries, including disabling brain and spinal injuries.
Keeping occupants in their seats
Car makers have been required to provide seat belts in passenger cars for many years. The failure of seat belts - including the tendency to false latch - can cause or contribute to serious injury and death in what should have been a non-injurious accident.
Protecting occupants from striking parts of the car
Beside seat belts, the most important injury prevention devices in the car are front and side impact airbags.
Containment of occupants in the car
Many vehicle occupants are killed every year because they are ejected from a vehicle which has been involved in an accident, resulting in the ejected occupant being run over by the car or another car.
Tires / tyres
The part of the vehicle which is in contact with the ground are the tires. The need for safe tires is self-evident. However, when a tire is defective in its design or manufacture --- causing tire tread separation or sidewall failure, or when a car manufacturer instructs drivers of a vehicle to use the tires in an unsafe way (such as under-inflating tires in order to mask the dangerous handling characteristics of the vehicle),
- For a discussion of these cases, see the law review article The Ford Pinto Case: The Valuation of Life as it Applies to the Negligence-Efficiency Argument
- See NHTSA's September, 1992, report Planning Document for Rollover Prevention and Injury Mitigation, Docket 91-68 No. 1, prepared by the Office of Vehicle Safety Standards; a more current study, regarding the unsafe handling aspects of 15-passenger vans, is Analysis of Crashes Involving 15-Passenger Vans, DOT HS 809 735, May 2004
- See the Auto Rollover pages of the NHTSA site and search for Safety Ratings at Safe Car
- For more information see the NHTSA SaferCar web site
- The United States Federal Government's Safer Car site, a project of the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency: your gateway to NHTSA's registry of defect investigations, recall notices, and safety ratings for automobiles sold in the United States.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Publishes results of the Institute's own testing as well as its analysis of insurance company claims records. As a part of its ratings, the Institute acknowledges its own list of "safe vehicles".
- Center for Auto Safety Site with articles from a consumer's point of view.
- Still Unsafe At Any Speed, Auto defect book by products liability expert Brian Chase.
- Public Citizen, An extensive in-depth collection of advocacy for consumers. Much of its automobile defects collection voices the concerns and insights of its former President, Joan Claybrook, who was the head of NHTSA in the Carter administration.