How the American Legal System Contributes to Safety: Motor Vehicle Safety – AJJ Reports

An American Association for Justice Report: Driven to Safety

We hear a lot these days about the costs that the American legal systems imposes on the economy, in terms of supposedly unnecessary additional expenses, such as medical tests, safety equipment, large verdicts, and ridiculous warnings.  Those claims support the views of those who want to limit legal rights of consumers and who want to be able to ignore safety with little risk of being held responsible for the results of their actions.   What we don’t often hear about is the tremendous benefits of the American legal system in terms of making us all safer.   Nowhere is this truer than with regard to motor vehicle safety.

The American civil justice system plays a major role in keeping consumers safe. It is the most effective way of holding companies accountable when products fail.   The court system protects the general public from poor safety decisions in manufacturing and packaging.    In the wake of the safety failures of Toyota vehicles and the injuries and deaths that resulted, the American Association for Justice released a report this year that chronicles the safety changes that our court system has created. The Report, entitled “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Spurred Auto Safety Innovations“, describes how the civil justice system has contributed to making automobiles safer for consumers over the years.

The fifteen-page AAJ Report: Driven to Safety contains information about how lawsuits have brought about safety changes in almost every part of the automobile: steering wheel design; body design, including side crush and roof crush improvements; gas tanks and fire/explosion prevention; windows; tires; handling, including electronic stability control; brakes and braking, including transmissions and parking brake mechanisms; and occupant protections, including seatbelts, airbags, and door latches.    The chronology and description of significant auto safety lawsuits clearly demonstrates that, without being held accountable in court, auto manufacturers would be making much less safe vehicles today.  Corporations are entities set up to make profit, and safety features are often seen as an unnecessary expense.   The cases described in the Report show that over and over the auto manufacturers were aware of safety features that often cost only a little more per car, but did not add these features to their cars until lawsuits forced them to do so.

As the Report concludes, “Some would say that automobile safety is the sole responsibility of federal regulators. Others say that not even regulators should address safety, and instead it should be left to the free market to protect consumers.   In fact, neither regulation nor the market can succeed in protecting Americans alone. The slow-moving nature and political vulnerability of federal rules, coupled with the revolving door relationship between the car manufacturers and the agencies, leaves regulation as an incomplete protection. The market, meanwhile, can only dictate safer vehicles if the consumer’s desire for a safe car is matched by honest information about their relative safety merits, which is not easy to come by when manufacturers often cover up their vehicle’s defects.  Rather, federal safety standards work in conjunction with the civil justice system as a two-pronged approach to protection, which in turn spurs safety innovations in the market. Since the 1960s, the civil justice system has worked to make Americans safer. Design defect litigation has enforced safety standards, revealed previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses, and deterred manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the sake of greater profits.”

Download the AAJ Report – Driven to Safety

About Christopher Guedri: Chris Guedri is a Virginia personal injury attorney with the law firm of Allen & Allen. Since joining the firm in 1991, Chris has focused his practice on car accidents, trucking accidents, products liability, and premises liability litigation.