Cars Are Getting Safer… Largely Due to the Civil Justice System and Litigation

The Washington Post has posted on Opinion Piece today citing the roll that Trial Attorneys, on behalf of injured plaintiffs, have played in promoting safety standards in American automobiles.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, traffic deaths in the United States have dropped to their lowest level since 1949.  Perhaps even more remarkable, this drop in deaths has occurred even as Americans drove 21 billion more miles in 2010 than they had the previous year.

The NHTSA attributes this decrease to the advancement in automobile safety over the past 35+ years.  The technology is better, regulations are stronger and buyers have more information. Not surprisingly, consumers are drawn to cars with the latest safety features.

Yet these factors alone do not tell the whole story. History shows that litigation and the civil justice system have served as the most consistent and powerful forces in heightening safety standards, revealing previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses and deterring manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits.

Many recall the issues surrounding the Ford Pinto. Consumer injuries and deaths, followed by numerous lawsuits, revealed that may auto manufacturers practices to maximize profits at the expense of known safety risks and the reasonable measures that could be taken to avoid them.

The Ford Pinto litigation sent a strong message to the auto industry. Unfortunately, manufacturers have still sold dangerous cars. In June 2004, a Dallas-area mother stopped her Ford F-150 truck to speak with her husband through the driver’s side window. Her 3-year-old daughter leaned out the passenger’s side window and accidentally hit the rocker switch, causing the window to close on her neck. When her parents noticed moments later, it was too late — their daughter was strangled.

As power windows became more common, so too did instances of children being strangled. Seven children died within a three-month period in 2004. Manufacturers were aware of the issue, and the fix was relatively simple and inexpensive. In response to regulations in other countries, European and Asian cars already used a safer switch — one that must be pulled up to raise a window — and so did many U.S. manufacturers on cars they offered to foreign markets. Yet incredibly, U.S. manufacturers did not install the safer switches on domestic cars because NHTSA had no rules governing power-window safety. Litigation eventually forced universal acceptance of the safer switches in 2006.

It would be easy to take for granted just how much safer vehicles have become and how safety measures have been standardized. Yet for years, the auto industry has worked to undermine these regulations and limit its liability by pushing for complete immunity from lawsuits when their vehicles comply with minimum federal safety standards.

Recall that the Pinto’s design met all government standards of the time. Had compliance with federal standards been a complete defense of vehicle safety, Ford could not have been held accountable for the many burn victims that the company was later shown to have anticipated.

Put another way, without the civil justice system, gas tanks would still explode in rear-end collisions, seat belts and airbags would not be standard, and cars would roll over onto roofs that would be easily crushed.

There are multiple reasons behind the welcome news that traffic deaths continue to decline. But the role of the civil justice system is often overlooked. Litigation has spurred safety innovations in vehicles for more than half a century and will continue to be essential in keeping Americans safe and holding manufacturers accountable.

Many times the serious injuries suffered as a result of a car wreck could have been prevented by a simple safety measure. Besides seeking damages for your injuries, bringing a lawsuit against a negligent manufacturer has the added benefit of deterring them from acting recklessly or negligently and changing their behavior.

Defective Product Liability Lawyers
Auto Accident Lawyers

About Pohl & Berk
Pohl & Berk LLP is a national personal injury law firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. The firm serves clients throughout the United States, as well as Mexico, and Central and South America. If you have any questions about our firm, or the type of cases we handle, please contact us, or for more information, visit our Website at

One Response to Cars Are Getting Safer… Largely Due to the Civil Justice System and Litigation

  1. Pingback: Quote of Week – Unsafe Cars « BJ Thoughts…