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For Some Automakers, Transparency Stops at the Windshield

Posted by Andrew J. Barovick | Apr 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

As I write, it is a beautiful spring day in the greater NYC area. It is the kind of day that motivates you to get out on the road in your sporty convertible and take the top down. You know, let the breeze fly through your hair as the sun shines down and excites your inner race-car driver. Well, you might enjoy that experience if you had a sporty convertible, and a full head of hair. Not all of us do, but one day…

But it is also a time to think more sobering thoughts, such as: Is the car I am driving safe? A fair question considering history has proved time and again that car manufacturers will not reveal defects in their products until forced to do so, either by the government, or by plaintiffs' lawyers. As all good students of recent legal history will recall, Ford was happy to allow passengers to burn to death in its Pinto, because the cost of defending or settling a few lawsuits was less than the cost to modify the manufacturing process needed to address the tap-and-ignite gas tank.

A recent National Law Journal article revisited Toyota's sudden acceleration issues. Toyota had executed a masterful public relations campaign that calmed the public, and cast blame on driver error and misplaced or wrong-sized floor mats, instead of electronics. Conservative commentators, on line and in the news, jumped on the opportunity to malign injured or dead plaintiffs and their attorneys, based on Toyota's focus on driver error, and on initial testing. They relished the opportunity to further their “tort reform”-based agenda of shielding Toyota from accountability, while portraying plaintiffs as bloodsuckers on the hindquarters of corporate America.

All of this worked well for Toyota, and tort reform, until the real experts became involved. In the investigation a Toyota insider shared some incriminating emails, all of which is discussed in detail in the National Law Journal's article, which is entitled, “Is Toyota Telling the Truth About Sudden Acceleration?” Clearly, as the National Law Journal article points out, its CEO of USA Motor Sales was not telling the truth when he told a House subcommittee that “no problems exist in our electronic throttle systems in our vehicles…[on which] We have done extensive testing…and have never found a malfunction that caused unintended acceleration.”

And now Ford Motor Co. has returned to the national spotlight with a lawsuit which includes claims that it failed to install brake overrides to handle electronic defects that resulted in sudden acceleration. This comes via the April 4, 2013 Daily Report in the National Law Journal. Not surprisingly, Ford knew about the problems in 2002, but failed to take corrective action until 2010 in North American vehicles, according to the suit's claims.

The cars involved include, according to the article: “Ford's Explorer, Focus and Taurus; eight Lincoln models, including the Town Car; and eight Mercury Models, including the Grand Marquis and Sable.”

So have fun on the road this spring. But don't forget to do your homework. The car makers won't do it for you.

About the Author

Andrew J. Barovick

Mr. Barovick is a graduate of Columbia College and Cardozo School of Law. He began his legal career at the Queens District Attorney’s Office, where he tried over 20 felonies to verdict, and argued an equal number of appeals before the Appellate Division, Second Department, the New York Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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