It is a little known fact, but often litigation leads to safer car standards since the process helps identify and hold liable negligent craftsmanship on the part of Auto Manufacturers. The most recent example, the Toyota Recall due to sudden acceleration and other glitches, is one in a long line of recalls the automobile industry has experienced over the years. What keeps these corporate behemoth’s in check? Often, it’s the legal industry that ensures car makers don’t skirt their responsibility of producing safe cars.
Many suggest that auto maker’s first weigh the cost’s of litigation versus the time and expense of recalling a line/s of automobiles. Historically, that argument seems to carry some weight. A watershed legal ruling occurred in 1968 when Larsen vs GM held the automaker liable for injuries suffered by a driver of a Corvair. The ruling placed accountability on the manufacturer for design features that it felt posed a risk to drivers, the first ruling of its kind. This was followed by the Ford Pinto line of automobiles and the placement of the gas tank in respect to the rest of the car in case of auto accidents, and the greater likelihood of the gas tank exploding on impact due to the position of the tank. This lead to greater scrutiny on the part of vehicle manufacturers, similar to what is taking place with the Toyota recall, to look for potential safety hazards or defects early to avoid not only costly litigation, but also the prospects of recalling the vehicles.
Prior to the Toyota debacle, the most recent example of note is the Ford Explorer rollover suits that were caused, in part, by tread separation on the Firestone tires that came stock with the Ford Explorer package. Firestone and Ford each accused the other of the auto accidents, including the 100+ auto fatalities due to the defect, which led to the companies ending their 100+ year relationship. As the LA Times noted, “…industry analysts note that better tires and electronic stability control – now standard on SUVs – emerged largely because of the Explorer’s problem.”
This problem and subsequent safety changes were a direct result of attorney and legal firms pressuring these institutions with lawsuits as a result of substandard vehicle conditions and design flaws.