In all the attention that the Toyota acceleration crisis has received, one fact has become clear – the role of trial lawyers in protecting consumers when companies fail to respond to safety concerns, and federal agencies entrusted with protecting the consumer, dither in their duty to keep defective products off the market.
In Toyota’s case, reports of unintended acceleration in its vehicles began surfacing as far back as 2002, when the company first introduced its bestselling electronic throttle control systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration however, failed to find the issue serious enough to warrant a recall. It took the deaths of four people in a San Diego accident involving a Lexus for the NHTSA and Toyota to admit that there was a problem.
As this piece in the Wall Street Journal shows, it’s not just the NHTSA that has failed to ensure consumer safety. The list of problems and safety issues that the Food and Drug Administration suffers from, warrants a series of posts on its own. That agency is plagued by accusations of corruption, infighting, severe paucity of funds and the lack of resources to function in a globalized world, where key ingredients for pharmaceutical drugs are manufactured in countries like China. These concerns were made evident at the Consumer Product Safety Commission during the lead toy scare of 2007, when dozens of toy models manufactured overseas were found to contain dangerously high levels of lead.
As the economy continues to flounder, and companies look for more ways to cut costs, product liability lawyers in Indiana can expect to come across more instances of corporate penny-pinching with disastrous results for the consumer in Indianapolis and the surrounding area. The agencies that are meant to regulate these industries admit quite frankly, that limited resources and other factors restrict the kind of quality they can guarantee Americans.
In a climate like this, product liability lawsuits are the only check that can keep manufacturers on their toes. A survey of CEOs in 1988 showed that
• 1/3rd of companies improved their product lines because of the threat of product liability lawsuits.
• 35 percent of the companies improved safety because of these threats.
• 47 percent of the companies improved the efficiency of their consumer safety warnings.
These changes have been possible because of oft-reviled trial lawyers willing to put companies on the stand, to answer for their safety records.
So, the next time you hear the tort reform brigade indulge in their usual hysterics, remember the bumper sticker that came out after the exploding Ford Pinto scandal of the 70’s – “If This Car Doesn’t Explode on Impact, Thank a Trial Lawyer!”