Auto Injuries & Accidents
2015 might just easily earn the dubious distinction as the Year of the Historic Recalls. We started off the year with news about the GM ignition recalls and the early months led to a great deal of hand-wringing over the massive Honda/Takata airbag recall. Now, the public is hit with news about the massive Fiat Chrysler recall. Given our firm’s long history of auto products liability cases, we continue to get requests to look at cases involving serious injuries resulting stemming from these recall issues.
Earlier this week, federal regulators slapped a $105 million penalty against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for its failure to complete 23 safety recalls that included over 11 million vehicles. If you’re wondering whether this is the highest civil penalty imposed yet by NHTSA on an automaker for recall violations, then you are right.
This recall also demonstrates an escalation of the agency’s efforts to investigate and punish automakers that do not adequately recall and fix defective models.
“This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the department will act when they do not take their obligations to repair safety defects seriously,” said the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx.
In a statement, the automaker acknowledged the safety violations and agreed to the record penalties.
“We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us,” the company said.
The agency said the civil penalty was broken down into a cash penalty of $70 million, and an agreement that Fiat Chrysler would spend at least $20 million on meeting performance requirements detailed in the consent order. An additional penalty of $15 million will be assessed on the company if an independent monitor, who has yet to be announced, discovers further violations of safety laws or the consent order.
Under the order, Fiat Chrysler is required to buy back as many as 500,000 vehicles with defective suspensions that can cause drivers to lose control. Also, owners of more than one million Jeeps with rear-mounted gas tanks that are prone to fires will be given an opportunity to trade in their vehicles at rates above market value.
Mark R. Rosekind, who took over as the administrator of the highway safety agency last December, said the heavy fine was a direct result of Fiat Chrysler’s prolonged failures to fix recalled models.
“Fiat Chrysler’s pattern of poor performance put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk,” he said.
The agency is authorized to impose a maximum fine of $35 million for an individual recall that is not completed in a timely manner.
The government’s action is the latest in a series of moves by Mr. Rosekind to put more pressure on automakers to fix defective vehicles.
“We need a proactive safety culture in this country,” he told reporters at a recent briefing in Detroit.
In Fiat Chrysler’s case, this month the government took the unusual step of holding a public hearing to focus on 23 separate recalls that date back to 2009. At the hearing, federal officials said the company had repeatedly failed to notify consumers of recalls and to complete repairs in a timely fashion.
The company’s top safety executive, Scott Kunselman, admitted the automaker had made “mistakes and missteps” in conducting recalls. “The agency has raised some legitimate questions,” he said at the hearing on July 2.
The automaker has started several new recalls since the hearing, including one on July 24, 2015 (this past Friday) that covered 1.4 million vehicles vulnerable to computer hackers.“The $105 million fine shows the need for an uncapped penalty,” said Clarence Ditlow, an official of the Center for Auto Safety who first petitioned the government to investigate the rear-mounted fuel tanks in Jeeps.
Fiat Chrysler is currently recalling 1.59 million Jeeps equipped with the rear-mounted gas tanks, which can catch on fire in high-speed collisions.
The company is installing trailer hitches on the affected Jeeps to soften the impact of rear-end collisions. But the rate of repairs in that recall has been slow, government investigators say.
Under the consent order, Jeep owners will have the option to trade in a vehicle for above market value or receive an unspecified payment from Fiat Chrysler to install a trailer hitch.
It’s summer, which means many of us are opting to find creative, less expensive ways to get to the airport. Personally, I’m in the minority among my friends when it comes to ride-hailing services like Uber. Why? I know too much about the insurance pitfalls, and can’t help but think about what might happen in the off chance that me or my family member might get injured as an Uber passenger.
Several days ago at a friend’s BBQ, I ran into one of my favorite neighbors who told me not to hug her too hard because she was involved in a horrible car accident with an Uber driver. When I asked her who was going to help her pay her medical bills, her response: “Good question. We’re still trying to figure that one out.”
This is one of the many problems that I have with ride-hailing services: They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. Why is it that they have escaped regulations and yet can exploit loopholes by calling themselves an “app” provider? They are quasi-taxi services, that have somehow figured out how to avoid the massive fees like medallions that hard-working taxi-drivers must deal with. Despite the many headlines that keep popping up about Uber tragedies, where lack of insurance persists as a critical issue, people are willing to turn a blind eye because they think they’re saving money.
True: In California, Washington and other states, we are seeing more laws pass to address the insurance coverage gap. Thank goodness. But this still doesn’t make things as straightforward as if you were injured in a taxi or your friend’s car. Many Uber drivers have still not disclosed to their insurance companies that they derive some of their income as ride-hailing drivers. Ooops. What do you think their insurers will say, when they find out after their insured gets into an accident with some injured passengers?
Is it worth it, if you find yourself in an accident as an Uber passenger or in a car that an Uber driver hits while it’s carrying Uber passengers? Think long and hard the next time you want to use that clever app. Please.
The latest number is ~34 million vehicles that are now included in the Takata airbag recall. This means 1 out of every 5 cars likely has a dangerous airbag or some other defective part (see below). Our Seattle auto product liability lawyers have handled many product liability cases–including with defective airbags. With this latest recall, the landscape of auto product recalls shifts dramatically. While the GM faulty ignition switch recall made history earlier this year at roughly 2.6 million recalls issued, the Takata recall reaches across company lines and includes 11 different auto makers. While the number of stories relating to the defective airbags is not large (under 10, compared to the 100+ deaths for the GM recall), any one who rides in a car or truck should not rest easy.
Apparently, many of you were alarmed enough today. There were droves (no pun intended) of concerned car owners who tried to visit NHTSA website for information, but the site has crashed a number of times today. Remember that the database is still not entirely updated on the NHTSA site, as it will take a few days. When you are ready to check it out, remember to jot down your VIN number.
If you or a family member was injured or killed due to a defective airbag, please contact us at Counsel@Stritmatter.com or 206.448.1777. Seattle law firm, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, is investigating cases involving defective Takata airbags.
See below for a large chunk of the car makers and models that are included in the recall:
Toyota: 778,177 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2004 Lexus SC
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2004 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2004 Toyota Tundra
2003 – 2004 Pontiac Vibe
Honda: 2,803,214 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2007 Honda Accord (4 cyl)
2001 – 2002 Honda Accord (6 cyl)
2001 – 2005 Honda Civic
2002 – 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 – 2011 Honda Element
2002 – 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 – 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 – Honda Ridgeline
2003 – 2006 Acura MDX
2002 – 2003 Acura TL/CL
Nissan: 437,712 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 – 2003 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 – 2003 Nissan Sentra
2001 – 2003 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 – 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 – Infiniti FX
Mazda: 18,050 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2004 Mazda6
2004 – Mazda RX-8
BMW: 573,935 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 – 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 – 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 – 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 – 2006 M3 Convertible
General Motors: 133,221 total number potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2003 Buick LeSabre
2002 – 2003 Buick Rendezvous
2002 – 2003 Cadillac DeVille
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Impala
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Venture
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy XL
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Bravada
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Bonneville
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Montana
NOTE: Video clip of interview is from PBS.org.
Some of our firm’s most tragic cases result from nighttime accidents. Once the sun goes down, a lawful pedestrian or bicyclist might not realize how invisible they are to a drunk or inattentive driver. Cars kill more than 5,000 pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers each year. The lion’s share of those accidents occur after the sun sets. But those who enjoy an evening stroll, run or bike ride need to know that not all reflective gear are equal.
Consumer Reports tested several types of reflective gear: jackets, bike shirts, and an inexpensive safety vest. A Betabrand shirt with reflective thread was marketed as easy to spot. However, in a recent Consumer Reports test, the shirt wasn’t visible from 300 feet. This is the distance for a car to stop in time, if the driver is traveling at 60 miles per hour.
To stay safe in the night, one needs to wear gear that is highly visible in the front as well as the back. The more reflective, the better. While the $180 Gore Phantom Windstopper soft-shell jacket is easy to see coming and going, it didn’t outperform the Uline safety vest, with its big, bright strips. The Uline option is much less expensive, about $15 at uline.com.
To increase your visibility, consider donning a reflective ankle band or wristband. According to Consumer Reports, these are highly visible from 300 feet. When you’re moving your legs and arms up and down, it’s hard to miss you from a distance.
Finally, don’t pooh-pooh some of the lowest cost options like iron-on reflective tape. Iron on this tape onto your own and your kids’ backpacks, hoodies, and caps to gain a little more peace of mind. Taking these extra steps, while staying clear of the road whenever possible, can only help prevent a needless tragedy.
Not that I’m superstitious, but what happened on the 520 bridge yesterday has a bizarre, “Friday the 13th” quality to it. According to The Seattle Times, a sign hit a bus near Lake Washington Boulevard on the west side of the bridge. Eight people were taken to the hospital for “minor injuries.”
Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Webb explained that a pipe [used to support a temporary work bridge] hit the bus, ricocheted off the top of the bus and hit the sign. That traffic sign then fell back on the bus, destroying the front of the bus. Witnesses say that the bus driver was lying on the ground and drivers had stopped and jumped over the median to help others on the bus.
WSDOT is meeting with the prime contractor, Flatiron Construction, to learn how this happened. Hopefully, they will figure out a way that this will never happen again. Thank goodness that more serious injuries did not result from this.
I cannot help but be reminded of the Lacey Hicks case, when a light post that had rusted out from its base had crashed through Ms. Hicks’s car. Lacey had to get extracted from the car with “jaws of life.” After SKW was hired to represent Lacey, much needed improvements were finally made with the remaining, dangerous light posts replaced.
WSDOT spokesman Ian Sterling:“The [pipes] are not supposed to swing across a live lane of traffic. That was never supposed to happen,” he said. Flatiron, whose subcontractor was moving the pipes, will be held responsible for funding or building a new sign, he said.
The Seattle Times article mentions that contractors have delivered pipes this way several times before with WSDOT consent. In the past, they have closed the right westbound lane of Highway 520, as traffic passed in the inside lane. Last night a routine one-lane closure was underway for the truck to park on the right side, while the crane mounted on the work bridge grasped the pipes.
These pipes are used to support a temporary work bridge in the lake near Foster Island, where Flatiron is constructing a $200 million highway segment — to carry three future westbound lanes.
Yesterday, a court order to unseal the entire court file in the massive whistleblower case against Trinity Guardrails (maker of now infamous ET Plus guardrails) will likely save many lives. This file contains literally hundreds of sealed pleadings and exhibits relating to a dangerous highway guardrail that’s been linked to dozens of deaths and injuries. The court also held that all of the testimony and exhibits from a recent trial of the case must also remain open to the public, effective immediately.
Below is an excerpt from the Public Justice website*:
The [court order to unseal all of the files for public access] is so important in this case. A major highway guardrail manufacturer, Trinity, will not be able to hide the fact that it kept its changed guardrail design from the federal government and that that guardrail design is unsafe. The victory also means that the public has access to facts that will be critical for making the case that the federal government should withdraw its approval of these guardrails. And it’s ammunition for states seeking to phase out and remove these lethal guardrails from our highways.
Trinity was sued for defrauding the federal government by changing the design of its guardrail end terminals, not conducting appropriate crash tests on the new design, and not telling the federal government about the changes—meaning that the guardrails remained on the Federal Highway Administration’s list of approved guardrails. A jury found that Trinity defrauded the government to the tune of $175 million.
Because of the design change, when the terminal is hit by a car, instead of absorbing the energy of the crash and slowing the vehicle, the guardrail jams and turns into a potentially lethal spear. Drivers and their passengers have been decapitated, their limbs have been severed, and they have been stabbed by these guardrails. A study by Public Justice client, The Safety Institute found that the redesigned Trinity guardrail was 2.86 to 3.95 times more likely to be involved in a lethal accident and 1.36 to 1.95 times more likely to be involved in an accident with serious injury than Trinity’s older design.
In the case against Trinity, huge swaths of court records—including crash test documents—were filed under seal. On behalf of The Safety Institute and the Center for Auto Safety, consumer protection attorneys sought to intervene to unseal the records. Although our motion to intervene was denied, our efforts to unseal the records helped to convince the court to do the right thing.
*NOTE: Stritmatter Kessler Whelan partner Brad J. Moore currently serves as President Elect of Public Justice, the country’s largest public interest law firm.
With gas still relatively cheap for now more consumers are considering buying a new car as the auto industry experiences double digit growth not seen since 2002.
In fact, more are leaning towards compact SUVs (or “CUVs”) and larger cars. Based on articles I’ve read, including the one on an insurance industry site, staying in the category of larger cars may also be a safer choice. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, the top 10 vehicles with the most fatalities include mini cars such as the Chevy Aveo, the Nissan Versa, the Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic. Other larger cars that made the dubious distinction as one of the cars with the highest rates of deadly accidents include the Camaro coupe and the Silverado (both Chevrolets),
Compare the “Most Deadly Cars” list with the below and best of luck on your next car purchase. As SKW wrongful death/injury attorneys are typically only contacted when after a fatal or catastrophic car accident, we see first hand the difference a well designed car can make when someone is involved in a serious crash.
|Overall driver deaths per million/ea year||Multiple-vehicle
|Audi A4 4WD||luxury car||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Honda Odyssey||minivan||very large||0||0||0||0|
|Kia Sorento 2WD||SUV||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Lexus RX 350 4WD||luxury SUV||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD||luxury SUV||large||0||0||0||0|
|Subaru Legacy 4WD||4-door car||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD||SUV||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Toyota Sequoia 4WD||SUV||large||0||0||0||0|
|Volvo XC90 4WD||luxury SUV||midsize||0||0||0||0|
|Honda Pilot 4WD||SUV||midsize||2||0||2||0|
|Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD||luxury SUV||midsize||3||3||0||0|
|Ford Crown Victoria||4-door car||very large||4||4||0||0|
|GMC Yukon 4WD||SUV||large||4||0||4||0|
|Acura TL 2WD||luxury car||midsize||5||5||0||0|
|Chevrolet Equinox 2WD||SUV||midsize||5||3||2||0|
|Chevrolet Equinox 4WD||SUV||midsize||5||5||0||0|
|Ford Expedition 4WD||SUV||large||5||5||0||0|
|Ford Flex 2WD||SUV||midsize||5||0||5||0|
|Mazda CX-9 4WD||SUV||midsize||5||0||5||5|
|2WD: 2-wheel drive; 4WD: 4-wheel drive|
Remember several years ago, when the State made talking on a handheld phone while driving illegal? Well, Washington State lawmakers are now proposing a much stricter law that altogether bans holding cell phones in the car.
With the rapidly developing technology in the area of wireless telecommunications, the proposal is aimed at putting an end to one hand on the wheel while the other hand is on a smart phone. The new law also includes outlawing emailing, texting, or other forms of electronic communication for drivers in Washington State.
The new proposed law is so strict that it would even be illegal to pick up and check your phone while you’re waiting for the light to change. (Ok, I admit that I’ve done that. But, this is going to end that habit for me…) If you are repeatedly fined, then you could face double-fines.
This law would not affect making hands free calls or using GPS systems. After seeing so many car accidents as the result of texting while driving or talking on the cell while driving, this bill can’t be passed soon enough.
“Holey moley!” That’s what I thought when I read that Honda got hit with a $70 million fine. The Obama administration imposed this history-making fine because the Japanese automaker failed to report to regulators roughly 1,700 complaints about its vehicles, claiming serious injuries and deaths. Moreover, the automaker apparently failed to report warranty claims. The complaints spanned an 11 year period, beginning in 2003.
This past November, Honda admitted that it didn’t report the aforementioned complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When did its executives learn of these omissions? It was in 2011 — three years ago.
Because the company also failed to report customer satisfaction/warranty claims (same 11 year period), NHTSA doubled the $35 million fine. One was for the failure to report the death/injury complaints; the other $35 mil for its failure to report the warranty/customer satisfaction claims. Ouch.
In case you’re wondering, yes – some of the complaints related to the Takata air bags along with other defective parts.