Product Liability

Why care about GM or Toyota auto manufacturer recalls?

Why should you care about GM's faulty ignition switch?

Why should you care about GM’s faulty ignition switch?

Would it surprise you to learn that car buyers don’t care about the General Motors (GM) recalls and stories of horrific accidents due to faulty ignition switches? Our federal government certainly cares. This is why it struck a $35 million settlement with GM, after finding that the giant auto manufacturer failed to act for a decade with knowledge of their defective ignition switch. The faulty GM ignition switch is what led to the death of at least 13 people and to the recall of roughly 2.6 million vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation fine levied against GM is the highest civil penalty amount ever thanks to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation of violations stemming from a recall. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the fine earlier this month, while pushing for reform legislation that would increase his ability to send a stronger message. Foxx put out a statement,

Safety is our top priority, and [the $35 million fine] announcement puts all manufacturers on notice that they will be held accountable if they fail to quickly report and address safety-related defects. While we will continue to aggressively monitor GM’s efforts in this case, we also urge Congress to support our GROW AMERICA Act, which would increase the penalties we could levy in cases like this from $35 million to $300 million, sending an even stronger message that delays will not be tolerated.

GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra claimed that the company’s new focus will be on “becoming an industry leader in safety.”

Time will tell.

In the meantime, the average car buyer doesn’t seem to think that that it matters that GM has a long history of focusing on the bottom line at the cost of human lives new car sales have not taken a hit.

Although car buyers don’t care. The good news for GM is that car buyers have shown little concern about the recalls. New car sales have been strong in the three months since the ignition recall was announced. It boggles my mind that GM is still ranked number one in U.S. market share. Even the price of used GM autos have maintained  throughout the crisis.

But car owners and new car buyers need to understand that it matters when auto manufacturers are cutting corners while risking lives.

Toyota too has persisted in similar issues. Earlier this year, it agreed to pay a $1.2 billion criminal fine over its behavior during a safety probe. That case was handled by the Justice Department.

All if this is to be continued.  Much more is in store for GM, in terms of civil lawsuits or criminal investigation by federal or local governments. I anticipate that individuals will come out and tell their story, after finding representation against an auto manufacturer.

Stritmatter Kessler Whelan has a track record of handling auto defects and obtaining large settlements for our clients in auto products liability cases.  For example, our case against Hyundai gained much attention from the industry and the press. More importantly, the $8 million has helped our client, Jesse Magana, to live a quality life despite his profound injuries.

 

Lawsuits & Congress Demand GM to Answer Tough Questions

When you start a car and drive it down the road, the last thing you expect is for the engine to shut off without warning. But this is what apparently happened to at least a dozen drivers of the GM Cobalts and Saturn Ions, resulting in fatal accidents. Additionally, when drivers/passengers were involved in a crashes with Cobalts and Saturns, airbags failed to deploy over 300 hundred times.

A GM Cobalt involved in a fatal accident in 2010 linked to its ignition system.  (Photo courtesy of The Cooper Firm)

A GM Cobalt involved in a fatal accident in 2010 linked to its ignition system.
(Photo courtesy of The Cooper Firm)

An ignition system and airbags are critical to ensure the safety of a car’s driver and passengers. Now, GM faces a slew of lawsuits regarding alleged faulty ignition switches and fault airbags that account for dozens, if not hundreds, of serious injuries and/or deaths, including a 19-year-old Megan Phillips, who lost control of the car, which careened off the road and struck a telephone junction box and two trees, according to the lawsuit. While Ms. Phillips sustained brain and other profound injuries,  15 year old Amy Rademaker 18 year old Natasha Weigel were killed.

A recent NY Times article discusses how the G.M. ignition problem is connected to air bags. For airbags to deploy, they require electrical power from the engine. The complex electronic system of sensors along with a computer  is what determines whether to deploy the air bag with maximum force or with a much lesser level. 

According to a watchdog organization, the Center for Auto Safety,  303 victims were in the front seat, where air bags failed to deploy. There were additional non-rear-impact crashes of Cobalts and Ions, in which the air bags did not deploy. In total, about 26% of a total 1,148 fatalities front seat and back seat occupants involved the same model Cobalts and Ions.

On top of the civil lawsuits, GM is now involved with Congressional criminal investigation and must answer to questions about what it took so long to order a recall regarding its faulty  ignitions.

How can we make sports safer for youth?

While we have seen discussions about the risk of traumatic brain injuries for NFL players, some are shining a brighter light on injuries that occur for soccer and lacrosse players. A 2013 report authored by the Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth (affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences) pointed out that soccer, lacrosse and basketball have the highest rates of concussions for female athletes at the high school and college levels.

Former U.S. soccer player, Briana Scurry, testified before Congress earlier this month to talk about the risks of concussions and neck injuries. (Photo: Sean Dougherty, USA TODAY Sports)

Former U.S. soccer player, Briana Scurry, testified before Congress earlier this month to talk about the risks of concussions and neck injuries.
(Photo: Sean Dougherty, USA TODAY Sports)

Olympic gold medalist and World Cup soccer player, Briana Scurry cut her career as a soccer goalie because of a concussion and neck injury.  A high school senior, Ian Heaton, who played lacrosse for a Maryland high school chose to leave the sport rather than risk a fourth concussion. Last week, Scurry and Heaton told their stories Thursday at a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, “Improving Sports Safety: A Multifaceted Approach.”

After suffering his third concussion on the lacrosse field, Ian could barely do much else besides sleep. Noise, light, and even the simplest things like moving his eyes caused him nausea and headaches. Navigating through the school halls and focusing on class lectures was out of his reach.  After home-schooling, he has worked hard to recover for over two and a half years. Recovery includes training himself to retain information and regain his pre-injury personality.

Brianna was kneed in the side of her head, when she was chasing a ball. While the footage caused little concern for most viewers, she has since suffered intense headaches, anxiety, balance loss, memory loss, and sleeplessness to mention a few of the disabling symptoms she’s struggled with over the past few years.

She and Ian spoke out to educate the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, chaired by U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). The subcommittee, affiliated with the Energy & Commerce Committee.  The committee, with its oversight of matters involving consumer protection, product safety and sports safety aims to grasp the ways that the sports leagues, equipment manufacturers, and medical community can make all sports safer.

While  the country’s football and ice hockey organizations have demonstrated a genuine understanding of the risks of serious injury, other US Soccer and US lacrosse have much ground to cover.

Large Auto Makers Cut Corners on Safety When They Can

Whenever you decide to drive a car in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, remember that GM, Nissan, and other automakers are not required to include many safety features that we take for granted in the U.S.  Those airbags and passive restraint seat belts are standard in our cars because we have the governmental agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), establishing requirements to increase auto safety. A key way NHTSA establishes standards is from its review of significant auto products liability cases. Catastrophic accidents often happen when an airbag didn’t deploy when it should have or when a roof collapsed when it shouldn’t have.

this image taken from a March 2013 video released by independent crash-test group Latin NCAP on Nov. 27, 2013, a Nissan model Tsuru vehicle with no airbags is crash-tested at Latin NCAP's facilities in Landsberg am Lech, Germany. Many international car manufacturers with plants in Mexico produce two versions of cars; sending models with air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control to the United States, and cars without those safety features to the local market. Photo: Latin NCAP, AP.

This image taken from a March 2013 video released by independent crash-test group Latin NCAP on Nov. 27, 2013, a Nissan model Tsuru vehicle with no airbags is crash-tested at Latin NCAP’s facilities in Landsberg am Lech, Germany. Many international car manufacturers with plants in Mexico produce two versions of cars; sending models with air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control to the United States, and cars without those safety features to the local market. Photo: Latin NCAP, AP.

However, for about  the same cost, you may find an identical car in Mexico with far fewer safety features in place. Why? While Nissan and GM won’t say it, the fact is that these companies are able to make greater profits by paying less for labor, for fewer parts, and for omitting antilock braking systems, electronic stability controls, or more than two airbags.

While the auto industry is booming in Mexico, there was a 58% increase in auto accident fatalities in the span of 10 years (2001 to 2011). Mexico’s auto-related fatality rate is three times that of U.S., which dropped about 40% in its car accident deaths in the same decade (2001 to 2011).

As much as Mexico needs more rigorous safety standards, the government is well aware of the $30 billion auto industry, which has raised the employment rate and the economic health by many accounts in the country. Still, there are those such as Dr. Arturo Cervantes Trejo, director of the Mexican Health Ministry‘s National Accident Prevention Council, who understands the need for upgrading the safety requirements for auto makers in Mexico.

“It’s a complicated subject because of the amount of money carmakers bring to this country. The economy protects them,” Cervantes told the AP. “But there are plans, there is a strategy. We have a working group with the car industry…”

But Alejandro Furas, technical director for Global New Car Assessment Program, or NCAP, a vehicle crash-test group doesn’t mince words: “We are paying for cars that are far more expensive and far less safe…Something is very wrong.”

Indeed, when not enough airbags are present in a car in a high impact collision, the likelihood of death or profound injuries shoot up. The auto makers enjoy healthy profits in Latin America at the expense of the citizens’ safety and lives.

Patient Safety Risks Can Involve Taking Generic Drugs

Karen Bartlett must instill eye drops to compensate for her eyes’ lack of tears. Karen is now legally blind with visible injury to her eyes, suffering from Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS). She now must live with SJS for the rest of her life, as a result of taking sulindac, a generic drug prescribed for shoulder pain.

SCOTUS to decide whether to hold generic drug makers accountable for tragic side effects.

SCOTUS to decide whether to hold generic drug makers accountable for tragic side effects.

Last month, SCOTUS heard Karen’s case regarding the legal responsibility generic drug manufacturers should have for the safety of their drugs.  Mutual Pharmaceutical v. Bartlett  will determine whether generic drug makers can be held accountable for the overall design of the drugs they produce.  Karen’s legal team argued that sulindac was unreasonably dangerous compared to similar drugs.  Lower courts concurred, awarding Karen $21 million in damages for her injuries.  Mutual argued that it only manufactures a copy of the brand drug, and therefore it has no legal responsibility for its design or safety.

Given that generic drugs make up 80% of all prescription drugs, a commonsense  decision would hold generic drug makers accountable. But after the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision in U.S. Airways v. McCutchen, only time will tell. BTW: SCOTUS decision in McCutchen allows ERISA plans to strips beneficiaries of necessary compensation when they are injured in an accident. (Look for a separate blog post on McCutchen.)

 


SKW Paul Whelan: 2013 Best Lawyers Seattle Product Liability Litigation – Plaintiffs “Lawyer of the Year”

The firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan just received word from Best Lawyers that our very own Paul Whelan has been named the 2013 Lawyer of the Year” for Seattle Product Liability Litigation as a plaintiffs attorney. 

While Paul has indeed achieved tremendous results in the area of Product Liablity, he also !PWW 2013 Best Lawyers.jpgcontinues to succeed in finding justice on behalf of those injured or wrongfully killed in Medical Negligence/Malpractice cases.  

Congratulations, Paul!

 

Think About This the Next Time You Look at a Wine Bottle

SKW attorney, Ray Kahler, recently wrote an article for Trial News. In brief, Ray discusses the Safer Bottle Production Required.jpgimportance of adopting safer requirements by bottle producers in this country. We should look at the requirements now imposed in Europe. If such safety requirements had been in place, an SKW client would have avoided serious injury while working with an unguarded bottle making machine.

Read the article for yourself (Product liability article for Trial News 2011.pdf) and find out how unsafe conditions remain for those who work in bottle manufacturing plants.

Parents of 2 Year Old Who Died from Tylenol Sue Johnson & Johnson

On July 22, 2010, Daniel and Katy Moore of Ellensburg, Wash., say they gave their 2-year-old son,!Childrens Tylenol.jpg River Moore, Very Berry Strawberry flavored Children’s Tylenol for a slight fever that night. About 30 minutes later, River began spitting up blood.

Now, Johnson & Johnson faces a lawsuit by the Moores, who had taken the defective Children’s Tylenol from a batch that had been previously recalled.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, accusing Johnson & Johnson of reckless, negligence, breach of warranty, infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy and other offenses, reports the Washington Post.

The next day, after being rushed to the hospital the night before, doctors pronounced River dead from liver failure. 

The medicine reportedly contained excessive acetaminophen, which damaged his liver and led to his death.

CEO William Weldon, three J&J subsidiaries, former consumer health business head Colleen Goggins and other company executives and board members, along with retailers and distributors who handled the product were also named in the lawsuit with Johnson & Johnson. The defendants have been accused of “willful and reckless conduct which needlessly caused the death of (the boy) simply to preserve the continuation of their billion-dollar revenue streams of pediatric medicines.

The Moores’ story is tragic. They are brave in their fight to bring justice, after the untimely and senseless loss of their little boy.

If you have a little one, gain a little peace of mind by ensuring that you’re not administering too high of a dose. Try a dosage calculator and consider alternatives after consulting with your child’s physician.

U.S. Chamber’s Hypocrisy Exposed: Do As I Say, Not As I Sue

New report shows hypocrisy of Institute for Legal Reform’s corporate board members that aggressively litigate while blocking justice for everyday Americans

Washington, D.C. –As the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) holds its annual summit – a strategy session on eliminating Americans’ access to the civil justice system – a new report exposes ILR’s corporate board members that hypocritically use the courts for their own gain against competitors, customers and even each othersay_sue_coverFIN.jpg_sized.jpg.

In its newest report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) exposes the hypocrisy of 10 ILR board members that regularly use the legal system to advance their own agendas, while at the same time advocating legislation that would close the courthouse doors to anyone who would hold them accountable for their own wrongdoing.

“These corporations, like all Americans, have a right to seek justice through the legal system,” said AAJ President Gary M. Paul. “What makes their actions shameful and hypocritical is that these companies are members of ILR’s board for the sole purpose of denying American workers and consumers this same right.”

One ILR board member highlighted in the report is Honeywell International, which has regularly taken competitors to court, but would prefer not to be held accountable for distributing defective body armor to law enforcement personnel across the country, or downplaying the dangers of asbestos exposure.

In return for its financial contributions to ILR, Honeywell has received policy and public relations help when its negligence has been uncovered. Four days after an Illinois jury delivered a multi-million dollar verdict against Honeywell for conspiring to hide the dangers of asbestos, ILR issued a press release stating that the decision “confirms a troubling trend in the State of Illinois where there is a hostile ligation environment.” Additionally, the Madison County Record, an Illinois-based propaganda-as-news outlet fully owned by ILR, featured an article headlined, “McLean County Continues Inching Closer to Becoming a ‘Judicial Hellhole.'”

The irony does not stop with Honeywell – AAJ’s report also highlights the litigation hypocrisy of ILR board members FedEx, Dow Chemical Company, General Motors Corporation, Caterpillar, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, Prudential and Johnson & Johnson.

Online ads will run this week on major news sites and blogs to promote the report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue: Exposing the Lawsuit-Happy Hypocrites of U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which can be found at www.justice.org/USChamber.

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