Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Civil Justice System has Spurred Automotive Safety

Driven to Safety:
How Litigation Spurred Auto Safety Innovations
April 2010
Gas Tanks
Side Impact Design
Seat Belts
Roof Crush
Electronic Stability Control
Door Latches
Illusory Park
Air Bags
Power Windows
Timeline of Key Automobile Litigation
Table of Contents
In the wake of Toyota’s sudden acceleration scandal, automobile safety is once again a hot-button issue. After internal
documents showed Toyota knew about potential defects, hid them from regulators, and even bragged about saving money
from limiting its recalls, Toyota received the largest fi ne ever levied against an auto manufacturer.
After 50 deaths and 8.5 million recalled cars, this saga is yet another example of regulation as an incomplete safeguard and
manufacturers that put profi ts over safety. Unfortunately, this scenario has been repeating itself for decades.
In 1964 in Michigan, David Larsen was driving a Chevy Corvair when he was involved in a head-on collision. The Corvair’s
steering mechanism was thrust backwards, ramming the steering wheel into Larsen’s head. A court would hear that the
Corvair’s steering mechanism consisted of a solid shaft that began less than three inches from the front of the car’s tires. The
unabsorbed forces of a head-on crash were transmitted directly towards the driver’s head. 1
Up until the 1960s, car manufacturers were only held liable for defects in construction that resulted in accidents and had
largely avoided responsibility for defects in design.2 Even when a design defect caused a car to burst into fl ames, manufacturers
succeeded in persuading courts that “no duty exists to make an automobile fi reproof.”3
Manufacturers had a large body of knowledge proving that car design – particularly in regard to steering columns, dashboards,
windshields and passenger restraints – was extremely unsafe to car occupants, but did nothing about it. Style was
valued over safety. The cost of largely unnecessary styling changes amounted to, at the time, $700 per car, yet the average
safety expenditure amounted to just 23 cents.4 For instance, many manufacturers used chrome enamel dashboards for their
aesthetic value, despite evidence that the dashboards commonly refl ected sunlight into drivers’ eyes and blinded them.
In the 1960s, court cases began highlighting the dangers of car design and the willful negligence of manufacturers in
designing cars that they knew to be unsafe.5 The Larsen case became a landmark decision. General Motors claimed they
had no duty to design an automobile that would protect the occupant if an accident occurred. The court disagreed and thus
sent a message that car manufacturers had to change their ways.6
Since then the civil justice system has worked hand-in-hand with regulation to protect Americans, while spurring generations
of safety innovations.
Litigation will ultimately play a key role in identifying what went wrong with Toyota. These fi ndings will aid regulators and
legislators in protecting the American public in the future. By holding manufacturers accountable, the civil justice system
will continue to spur safety innovations, as it has done for half a century.
Gas Tanks
Barely a decade after Larsen, litigation over the Ford Pinto sent another message to the automobile industry. The Pinto
became notorious after court cases highlighted a faulty design that left the gas tank unprotected and resulted in explosion,
even in minor rear-end accidents. Internal documents revealed Ford knew of the problem and could fi x it for as little as $11
per car, but calculated that it would be more profi table to sell the car as-is and let injuries occur. In Grimshaw v. Ford Motor
Company (1981), a California appeals court awarded $125 million in punitive damages (later reduced) to the victims of a
Pinto explosion.
The Pinto’s design met all government standards of the time. Had compliance with federal standards been a complete
defense, as many auto industry lobbyists have proposed over the years, Ford could not have been held responsible for the
many burn victims that the company itself anticipated. As it was, the litigation spurred the adoption of requirements for fuel
tank performance in rear-end collisions that had not been in place before. 7
Other similar cases, such as the General Motors “side saddle” gas tank and the Chevy Malibu, highlighted the dangers of
defective gas tank design. In the case of the Malibu, Chevy spurned fi xing the problem for just $8.40 per car because it
calculated that paying an anticipated 500 victims of fatal accidents would cost only $2.40 per car – in other words it would
be cheaper to let people burn than to fi x the problem. As a result of such cases, gas tanks are now universally located
within cars’ rigid frames. According to Logan Robinson, a University of Detroit law professor and former general counsel for
Chrysler, litigation caused manufacturers to redesign the placement of gas tanks, and “now, most all cars are designed to
take at least a 50-mph hit.”8
Side Impact Design
In 1974, Richard Dawson, a police offi cer with the Pennsauken Police Department in New Jersey, lost control of his Dodge
Monaco while driving to respond to a burglar alarm. The side of the car struck an unyielding steel pole. Though eyewitnesses
reported the car hit the pole at less than 26 miles per hour, the pole ripped through the car and crushed Dawson. He
was left quadriplegic with no control of his body from the neck down and in need of constant medical care.
During the ensuing court case, Dawson’s attorneys argued that the vehicle design was defective because it was unable to
withstand side impacts at even relatively low speeds. The vehicle had a non-continuous frame, and between its front and
rear frame portions was a 17-inch gap. Evidence showed the steel pole slid along the car body until it reached the gap, and
then tore through the vehicle, smashing Dawson. Had the vehicle had a full continuous frame, it would have protected the
car from being cut in half by the pole.
Chrysler argued that it had no duty to produce a “crashproof” vehicle, and furthermore, had met all existing regulatory
standards. They also pointed out that a full continuous frame would add $300 to the price of the vehicle.
The court disagreed and held Chrysler responsible for the defective design. Car manufacturers now routinely build cars with
stiff , strong unibody designs that off er more protection to occupants in a crash.9
Seat Belts
In 1996, Bart Moran’s 1997 Dodge Minivan was involved in a low-speed rollover in Corpus Christi, Texas. Moran’s seat belt
unlatched and he was thrown from the van, suff ering a broken neck and massive head injuries. He died the next day, leaving
behind a wife and 8-month-old daughter. Court cases highlighting the dangers of cars with inferior or no seat belts spurred
major safety improvements, with both seat belts and seat backs redesigned in response to litigation.
One example was the Gen 3 seat belt installed in more than 14 million DaimlerChrysler
cars and minivans, including the one Bart Moran was driving. The Gen 3 had a button
that protruded over the button cover, allowing it to be accidentally depressed by a
fl ailing arm or loose object. At least 15 deaths and 18 serious injuries were caused by
its malfunction. Even after Chrysler’s engineers identifi ed the problem and recommended
a newer, safer seat belt, the car manufacturer continued to use the Gen 3 in many models,
often in the back seat.
In 2000, Bart Moran’s widow Yvonne won a $6.7 million court award from DaimlerChrysler
and the seatbelt manufacturer, which helped force the car company to install safer seat belts
throughout all its cars.10 Other cases highlighted auto manufacturers’ failure to install rear seat belts. Car companies had
installed rear three-point seat belts in the cars they manufactured for foreign markets, but domestically they stuck to lap
seat belts in order to save $12 per car. Again, while regulators refused to investigate or institute rules regarding rear seat
belts, car manufacturers did begin installing three-point rear seat belts after being held accountable in court.11
Roof Crush
On September 11, 1997, Penny Shipler, a 29-year-old single mother from Nebraska, was seriously injured after the Chevy
Blazer she was riding in was involved in a rollover accident. The roof of the Blazer collapsed more than eight inches, crushing
her spine and paralyzing her from the neck down.12
As far back as the 1960s, car manufacturers knew that the roof strength of their cars was inadequate. After one case, in
which a passenger was crushed when the roof of their Buick collapsed, the court held that “it is the obligation of automobile
manufacturers to provide more than a movable platform capable of transporting passengers from one point to another.”13
In 1971, the National Highway Safety Bureau (the precursor to the National Highway Traffi c Safety Administration) began to
develop its fi rst safety standards regulating roof strength to ensure vehicles could withstand pressure on their roofs when
involved in a rollover accident. The automobile industry lobbied the agency to signifi cantly weaken the new roof crush test.
They were motivated by the fact that they knew the roof strength of their cars was already a major safety issue. In the case
of General Motors, fi ve out of six car models failed their internal crash tests, a fact the manufacturer covered up for more
than 30 years. Manufacturers opposed increasing roof strength standards for the next three decades, not only because they
knew many current cars would fail crash tests, but also because they did not want the added cost of stronger roofs in future
productions. Meanwhile, the death toll from rollovers reached an estimated 7,000 per year.14
For Shipler, General Motors’ refusal to accept responsibility meant she and her young son were forced to live on $800 a
A comparison of the Gen 2 and
Gen 3 seat belt buttons. The Gen
3 had a button that protruded
from the cover.
month in Social Security and food stamps, while her medical bills accumulated into the millions. In 2006, nine years after
her accident, a court awarded her $18.6 million, one of the largest court judgments linking vehicle roof strength to severe
injuries in rollovers.
NHTSA recently approved a vastly strengthened rule, which will go into eff ect in 2012. As Shipler herself said, “I hope my
case will be a reason for GM to improve the roofs of these vehicles so what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen.”
On a beautiful Saturday in March 2000, Donna Bailey, a 43-year-old mother of two, traveled with two friends to a climbing
expedition in Texas in a Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone tires. One of the tires suddenly separated, and the
Explorer skidded and rolled. Despite wearing her seatbelt, Bailey was left paralyzed from the neck down.15
Defective Firestone tires on Ford Explorers took the lives of at least 271 people and seriously injured many more before the
companies issued the largest tire recall in history. Internal company documents would later show that the two corporations
had known of the deadly tire separation and associated rollover problems for years. Firestone knew as early as 1997
that there were serious problems with its tires. Vehicle owners began sending complaints of tire failures at a rate 100 times
greater than normal. Firestone employees would later state that they punctured bubbles in tires to conceal fl aws and that
inspection of fi nished tires was nonexistent.
After a series of lawsuits highlighted the issue, the National Highway Traffi c Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an
investigation into the tread separations. In August 2000, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires.
The Ford/Firestone case is only the latest and most recognizable instance of a manufacturer knowingly producing defective
tires. Michelin, Cooper and other manufacturers have manufactured unsafe tires and taken corrective actions as a result of
litigation. Even Firestone had tried to get away with production of defective tires before its most recent troubles. In 1971, the
company debuted the Firestone 500 radial, which was prone to suff er tread separation at high speeds. By 1973, Firestone
engineers had identifi ed the problem and the dangers associated with it; however, the company continued to sell what
would turn out to be nearly 24 million tires, insisting that there were no defects. At one point Firestone recorded that over
10 percent of tires were suff ering separation. Litigation on behalf of victims injured after tire separations began to mount. By
1978, the company was forced to admit it faced more than 250 lawsuits, and the company agreed to recall the tires.16
Electronic Stability Control
Electronic stability control (ESC) was a safety innovation prompted in part by litigation surrounding the increasingly popular,
but inherently unstable SUVs.17 As SUVs became popular, their lack of stability became more apparent, their design made
them more prone to roll over than regular cars.
Certain models, such as the Ford Bronco II and its successor, the Explorer, were particularly unstable. In 1989, one year before
the release of the Explorer, Ford executives tried to stop a Consumer Reports article critical of the Bronco II. Jerry Sloane of
Ford’s public aff airs offi ce wrote in one internal memo, “We think going in we were in deep trouble regarding our rollover
rates... Our rollover rate is three times higher than the Chevy S-10 Blazer... [T]he [Fatal Accident Reporting Service (FARS) ]
data put us in a bad light... We think, however, that we have clouded their minds.”18
One result of the Ford/Firestone and other SUV litigation was an increased emphasis on the development of electronic stability
control. ESC incorporates yaw (rotation around the vertical axis) control into anti-lock braking systems. When a driver
loses control, ESC applies brakes to each wheel individually to correct skids and bring the car back under control.19
Door Latches
In 2001, Deborah Seliner was driving her 1997 Ford pickup along a Texas highway when a rear tire blew, forcing her off the
road and causing the truck to rollover. Seliner was wearing a seat belt but was ejected from the truck because the driver’s
side door came open. She was paralyzed from the chest down and confi ned to a wheelchair for life.20
Ford’s problem with doors unexpectedly opening had been happening since at least 1997. By 2000, Ford had traced the
problem to defective springs in its “paddle-style” door handles, aff ecting more than four million vehicles. On March 6,
2000, Ford’s own engineers recommended the cars be recalled and the door latches redesigned. The recommendation
was passed onto Ford’s Field Review Committee, the executive body that ordered recalls. The committee agreed with the
engineers and plans for a recall were made. Then a few days later, the recall was cancelled. Instead, Ford found an alternative
and little-used crash test that it knew the handles would likely pass.21
Inevitably, people like Deborah Seliner were injured when the doors opened during accidents. As a result of litigation on
behalf of victims, car manufacturers began using recessed door handles that were less likely to cause an unintended door
Ford’s strategy mirrored that of other automobile manufacturers in the past. Between 1978 and 1987, GM produced cars with
so-called “Type 3” door handles. GM’s own engineers recommended recalling the cars to fi x the doors, but with 30 million
aff ected cars on the road and an estimated cost of nearly $1 billion, GM decided to leave them as they were and instead
secretly settle cases for as long as possible until the statute of limitations ran out. Hundreds of people were killed, until a
$150 million verdict in Georgia in 1996 highlighted the problem to the public and regulators.23
Illusory Park
Kim Golden parked her 1997 Dodge Caravan and got out to speak with a friend, leaving her 4-year-old daughter in the car.
Moments later the van began to roll away with her daughter inside. Golden chased after the van and grabbed a door in an
eff ort to stop it. She was knocked down and crushed under a wheel. She died, fi ve months pregnant with twins.24
In the 1970s and 80s, Chrysler and Ford produced cars with defective transmission designs. This defect produced an “illusory
park” position, giving the driver the impression that the car was secured when in fact it was not. Vibration or slamming of
a car door could cause the car’s transmission to slip out of the “park” position and into reverse gear. At least 90 injuries and
deaths were reported as a result of this defect.
A “smoking gun” interoffi ce memo discovered during litigation established that Ford engineers had been aware of the “illusory
park” problem since 1971 but had taken no action to correct it. The jury found the transmission design defective and,
critically, that Ford had failed to give drivers adequate warnings of the problem. Ford fi nally eliminated the “illusory park”
position hazard after it lost two lawsuits fi led by people injured as a result of the design. 25
However, the same problem reappeared in the 1990s. Reports began to circulate about rollaway problems with Chrysler’s
Minivans and Dodge Dakotas after the vehicles would appear to slip from the park position. For years, Chrysler denied there
was a problem and then blamed it on driver error.
Privately, they knew the problem could be fi xed but decided not to take action. In 1994, Chrysler safety managers urgently
recommended installing brake shift interlock – a system that requires drivers to depress the brake pedal in order to shift out
of park – in its minivans. Chrysler executives rejected the recommendation, saying if they installed it on the minivans, they
would have to install it on all Chrysler cars, which would be too expensive. The cost was estimated at $9 per car.26
Eventually in 2000, ten years after their fi rst production, Chrysler recalled more than 150,000 Dodge Dakotas. As of 2001,
Chrysler installed brake shift interlock on all its minivans.
Just months later, NHTSA began investigating another Chrysler car, the Jeep Cherokee, which had the same transmission
as the Dakota, after a series of lawsuits were fi led on behalf of victims. Over 700 alleged incidences of unintended shifting
were reported. Again, Chrysler blamed driver error until one of its engineers admitted in depositions that it was possible to
place the gear shifter so it appeared to be in park but was not actually secure. A door slamming or an air conditioner turning
on could be enough to shift the car into gear. NHTSA investigators were able to duplicate the problem, and Chrysler fi nally
relented and recalled 1.6 million Jeeps.27
Air Bags
In 1991, Rebecca Tebbetts, a 19-year-old college student from New Hampshire, was killed after her 1988 Ford Escort slipped
down an embankment and hit a tree. The car was not equipped with an air bag. Tebbetts’ mother fi led a lawsuit against
Ford, one of more than 100 alleging that automakers knew that the absence of air bags resulted in thousands of unnecessary
deaths every year.28
Automobile manufacturers have been developing air bag technology since at least the 1950s and testing it in cars since at
least the late 1960s.29 General Motors was even off ering air bags as an option on certain model cars by the mid-1970s.30 Yet
by 1988, only two percent of new cars were equipped with air bags.31
Though the auto industry was aware of the safety benefi ts of air bags, it was remarkably slow in marketing the technology.
General Motors, for instance, stopped its air bag development though it had once been a leader in air bag research and
previously said it could equip all its cars.32 In comments fi led with NHTSA, GM told the regulator that it planned to abandon
projections on the number of air bag-equipped cars it would manufacture. GM cited NHTSA’s plans to closely monitor “automatic
restraint system malfunctions” saying the company did “not believe that automatic restraint system malfunctions
will be suffi ciently prevalent to warrant such attention.”33 This decision came despite the company’s own market research
on consumer attitudes toward air bags, which showed that as early as 1971, between 40 and 50 percent of customers were
willing to pay extra for air bags.34 The Wall Street Journal even reported that GM refused to promote airbags and, “instead,
the company and its dealers actively discouraged sales.”35
Courts, however, found that the manufacturers knew full well that the absence of air bags made cars less safe, and held
them responsible for the consequences. Manufacturers either lost in court or were forced to settle, and until eventually,
manufacturers began installing air bags as standard.36
Power Windows
In June 2004, a Dallas-area mother stopped her Ford F-150 to talk to her husband through the driver’s side window. Her
3-year-old daughter, Yencey Ayala, leaned out of the passenger’s side window and accidentally hit the rocker switch,
causing the window to close on her neck. Though the girl’s parents noticed moments later, it was too late. The girl died from
As power windows became more common, so too did instances of children being accidentally strangled. In 2004, seven
children died within the space of three months. The safety issue with power windows involved the “rocker” style switch,
which can inadvertently close the windows if a child leans on it. Manufacturers were well aware of the issue, and the fi x 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 upward to raise a window – and so did many American manufacturers on cars they off ered
to foreign markets. Yet incredibly, American manufacturers did not install the safer switches on domestic cars, since NHTSA
had no rules governing power window safety.
At one point a Ford spokesperson defended the manufacturer by saying, “there’s only so much automakers can do to
prevent these tragedies. At some point the parents have a responsibility to make sure children are supervised.”38
In 1996, Kevin Gleason strapped his fi ve-year-old daughter into the back seat of his Buick Century. He then sat in the passenger
seat in front of her. When their car was struck from behind by a pickup going less than 25 miles per hour, Gleason’s
seat collapsed backwards and killed his daughter.39
Safety engineer Mark Pozzi described the design of many seats as “probably among the most egregious, widespread safety
defects to be found.” Both manufacturers and regulators have long known that seats not built to withstand accidents
can cause serious or even fatal injuries for passengers in cars. Engineers have been able to design seats that both provide
protection to the seat occupant and withstand collapsing onto other occupants. GM engineers admitted that seats costing
just $1 more could reduce injury levels by up to 90 percent. Yet because NHTSA regulations do not require such seats, many
manufacturers did not bother installing them. In 1996, for instance, Chrysler Sebrings were produced with seats that could
withstand 3,300 pounds of force, yet the next year the company sold Dodge Rams with seats that could only take 605
pounds of force.
As a result of lawsuits highlighting the issue, seats are engineered to be stronger and with added safety innovations.40
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 profi ts.
The civil justice system is already beginning to play a key part in holding Toyota accountable. However, this accountability
will do more than just secure restitution for victims of defective Toyotas. If history is any judge, the litigation will inevitably
force Toyota to fi x the problem in the future. While new laws or regulations may take months or years to enact, highlighting
the problem in the courtroom immediately puts executives on notice that the American people will not accept such negligent
behavior. Time and again, this has forced manufacturers to choose safety innovations over their cost-saving instincts,
and likely will again.
Timeline of Key Automobile Litigation
MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050, N.Y. 1916.
Donald MacPherson was injured when the wooden spokes of one of the wheels on his 1920 Buick Runabout
crumbled, causing the car to collapse and ejecting him. Judge Benjamin Cardozo, in a ruling that has often been
referred to as the origin of product liability, stated, “If the nature of a thing is such that it is reasonably certain to
place life and limb in peril when negligently made, it is then a thing of danger. Its nature gives warning of the
consequence to be expected. If to the element of danger there is added knowledge that the thing will be used by
persons other than the purchaser, and used without new tests, then, irrespective of contract, the manufacturer of
this thing of danger is under a duty to make it carefully.”
Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495, 8th Cir., 1968.
David Larsen was driving a Chevy Corvair when he was involved in a head-on collision that rammed the Corvair’s
steering mechanism into his head. General Motors claimed it had no duty to design an automobile that would protect
the occupant in an accident. In what would become a landmark decision, the court disagreed and thus sent a
message that car manufacturers had to change their ways.
Dyson v. General Motors Corp., 298 F.Supp. 1064, D.C.Pa., 1969.
When a 1965 Buick Elektra rolled over, the right side of its roof collapsed, severely injuring an occupant. The court
held, “[I]t is the obligation of an automobile manufacturer to provide more than merely a movable platform capable
of transporting passengers from one point to another. The passengers must be provided a reasonably safe
container within which to make the journey. The roof is a part of such container....”
Fox v. Ford Motor Co., 575 F.2d 774, C.A.Wyo., 1978.
A Wyoming court held Ford liable for the deaths of two women riding in the back of a Thunderbird during a lowspeed,
head-on collision. The two passengers in the front seats survived. The two women in the rear seats, wives of
the men in front, both died. A court found that the rear seats were improperly designed: the front seats were not
cushioned in anticipation of a rear occupant striking them and the seat belts were not designed to prevent passengers
jackknifi ng forward.
Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 119 Cal.App.3d 757, 174 Cal.Rptr. 348, Cal.App. 4 Dist., 1981.
Punitive damages were awarded against Ford after a court found that the company knew its Ford Pinto was
susceptible to deadly fi res and explosions because of a defective design that left the gas tank exposed in rear-end
Dawson v. Chrysler Corp., 630 F.2d 950, 3d Cir., 1980, cert. denied, 450 U.S. 959, 1981.
Chrysler was held liable after a police offi cer was rendered quadriplegic when his car hit a steel pole side-on and
was ripped in half. The court held that the Chrysler’s divided frame design was defective.
Leichtamer v. American Motors Corp., 67 Ohio St.2d 456, 424 N.E.2d 568, Ohio, 1981.
Punitive damages were awarded against American Motors Corp, after one of its Jeeps, marketed as suitable for off -
road and hilly conditions, rolled over during a low-speed hill descent causing its roll bar to crush the occupants.
Dorsey v. Honda Motor Co. Ltd., 655 F.2d 650, C.A.Fla., 1981.
The fi rst car sold in America by Honda was the diminutive AN 600. Honda marketed it as a low-price, economical car.
Glen Dorsey purchased one in 1972. When involved in a low speed collision, Dorsey was seriously injured and left
with a massive, permanent brain injury. At trial it was revealed that Honda knew the car was extremely vulnerable to
collapsing upon impact, but had decided not to strengthen it for fear of reducing its economical performance.
Hasson v. Ford Motor Co., 32 Cal.3d 388, 650 P.2d 1171, Cal.,1982.
Ford’s 1966 Lincoln Continental had defective brakes, a fact which the company covered up so as not to damage
the Continental’s “service-free” reputation. In 1970, 19-year-old James Hasson suff ered serious injuries, including a
fractured skull and extensive brain damage, when the brakes failed on his Continental. Ford fought the case for he
next 12 years until eventually Hasson was granted compensation.
Seliner v. Ford Motor Co., No. 2002-30454, Tex, Harris County Dist. Ct., 2004.
In 2001, Deborah Seliner’s 1997 Ford pickup blew a tire along a Texas highway and rolled over. Seliner was wearing
a seat belt but was ejected from the truck because the driver’s side door came open. Internal documents from this
and other similar cases revealed that Ford was aware the door handles were defective and were prone to opening
in accidents, but chose to cover up the problem. Seliner was paralyzed from the chest down and confi ned to a
wheelchair for life.
Shipler v. General Motors Corp., 271 Neb. 194, 710 N.W.2d 807, 2006.
Penny Shipler, a 29-year-old single mother from Nebraska, was paralyzed after the roof of the Chevy Blazer she was
riding in collapsed during a rollover accident. In 2006, nine years after her accident, a court awarded her $18.6 million,
one of the largest court judgments linking vehicle roof-strength to severe injuries in rollovers. Shipler said of
the verdict, “I hope my case will be a reason for GM to improve the roofs of these vehicles so what happened to me
doesn’t continue to happen.”
AlliedSignal, Inc. v. Moran, 231 S.W.3d 16, Tex.App.-Corpus Christi, 2007.
In 1996, Bart Moran’s 1997 Dodge Minivan was involved in a low speed rollover in Corpus Christi, Texas. Moran’s seat
belt unlatched and he was thrown from the van, suff ering a broken neck and massive head injuries. He died the
next day, leaving behind a wife and 8-month-old daughter. The court heard that the minivan’s “Gen 3” belt latch was
defective and could unlatch in an accident, a fact that Chrylser’s engineers had already identifi ed.
1 Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968).
2 Harold A. Katz, Liability of Automobile Manufacturers for Unsafe Design of Passenger Cars, Harvard Law Review,
March 1956.
3 Shumard v. General Motors Corporation, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, 270 F.Supp.
311 (1967).
4 Ralph Nader, Unsafe at any speed, 1965.
5 Steven L. Holley, The Relationship Between Federal Standards and Litigation in the Control of Automobile Design, at
807, New York University Law Review, October 1982.
6 Supra note 4.
7 Supra note 5, at 823.
8 Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 119 Cal.App.3d 757, 174 Cal. Rptr. 348, 1981; Carol J. Williams, Toyota is just the latest automaker
to face auto safety litigation, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2010, -toyotalitigate14-
2010mar14,0,2005316.story; They Knew and Failed To, American Association for Justice (AAJ), October 2009.
9 Dawson v. Chrysler Corp., 630 F.2d 950 (3d Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 959 (1981).
10 AlliedSignal, Inc. v. Moran, 231 S.W.3d 16, Tex.App.-Corpus Christi, 2007; Widow Tells Committee How Her Lawsuit
Uncovered Seat Belt Defect, Center for Auto Safety, February 27, 2003,
how-her-lawsuit-uncovered-seat-belt-defect; The Moran Case,,
11 Wesley J. Smith, Fighting for Public Justice, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), 2001, discussing Garrett v. Ford Motor
Co., 684 F. Supp. 407 (D.Md. 1987).
12 Shipler v. General Motors Corp., 271 Neb. 194, 710 N.W.2d 807, 2006.
13 Dyson v. General Motors Corp., 298 F.Supp. 1064, E.D.Pa.,1969.
14 Industry Concealment of Tests Undermined Development of Meaningful Rollover Crash Roof Crush Resistance
Standard in 1971, Public Citizen, 2005; Bill Vlasic, Court upholds verdict in roof crush case but GM won’t concede
defeat in $18.6 million jury award to woman paralyzed in 1997 crash, The Detroit News, March 17, 2006.
15 Anita Kumar, Ford quick to settle cases involving tires, St. Petersburg Times, February 3, 2001.
15 Business: Forewarning of Fatal Flaws, Time, June 25, 1979.
17 Toyota is just the latest automaker to face auto safety litigation, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2010, http://www.latimes.
com/business/la-fi -toyota-litigate14-2010mar14,0,2005316.story.
18 Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., 141 Cal.App.4th 525, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 147, Cal.App. 4 Dist., 2006.
19 ESC and how it helps drivers maintain control, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS),
20 Seliner v. Ford Motor Co., No. 2002-30454, Tex, Harris County Dist. Ct., April 2004.
21 Jeff Plungis, Ford faces more lawsuits on door latch safety issue, Louisville Courier Journal, May 4, 2004.
22 Ralph Blumenthal, In Door Safety Cases, Ford Settles and a Mother Struggles, New York Times, May 4, 2004.
23 Ronald Smothers, Jury’s $150 Million Award Against G.M. Touches Off Furor, New York Times, June 5, 1996.
24 Minivan Danger, PrimeTime, ABC News, May 3, 2008.
25 AP, LA jury says DaimlerChrysler must pay $54 million in truck death, March 9, 2007; They Knew and Failed To, American
Association for Justice (AAJ), October 2009.
26 Supra note 24.
27 Grand Cherokee Probed, CNN Money, July 4, 2001,; Feds
Investigating Jeep Cherokee, ConsumerAff, August 6, 2001, http://www.consumeraff
html; Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Jeep Cherokee Blame Game Heats Up, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2001; Jeep
Grand Cherokees Recalled, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2002.
28 David Stout, Air-Bag Ruling in Fatal Crash Could Infl uence Other Cases, New York Times, September 20, 1995; Tebbetts
v. Ford Motor Co., 140 N.H. 203, 665 A.2d 345, N.H.,1995. The United States Supreme Court subsequently turned
down Ford’s appeal, but in 1997, six years after the original accident, Ford succeeding in getting a favorable decision.
Nevertheless, the Tebbetts case, and others like it, had already both highlighted the issue and spurred manufacturers to
adopt airbags more comprehensively.
29 Vehicles May Need Infl atable Air Bags as Safety Feature, Wall Street Journal, July 3, 1969.
30 General Motors Milestones – The First 100 Years, Automobile Magazine, October 2008.
31 Fred Mannering and Cliff ord Winston, Automobile Air Bags in the 1990s: Market Failure or Market Effi ciency? Journal
of Law and Economics, October 1995.
32 Ralph Nader & William Taylor, The Big Boys: Power and Position in American Business, (1986).
33 GM’s Automatic Restraints: Puzzling Pattern, The Highway Loss Reduction Status Report, Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety, March 26, 1980.
34 Id.
35 Congressman Charges Air Bag Data ‘Supressed,’ The Highway Loss Reduction Status Report, Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety, December 21, 1979.
36 Daniel McGinn, Daniel Pederson, A life-or-death choice? (automobile airbags), Newsweek, October 20, 1997; Stephen
Lichtenstein, Airbag products liability litigation, Cleveland State Law Review, 1997; See also Wesley J. Smith, Fighting for
Public Justice, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), 2001, discussing Burgess v. Ford Motor Co., 1982, in which Ford was
forced to settle a case regarding the lack of air bags on the Ford Pinto for $1.8 million.
37 AP, Tot dies after her neck becomes stuck in car’s power window, June 8, 2004.
38 Greg Schneider, Advocates Say Technology Exists to Prevent Accidents, Washington Post, June 24, 2004.
39 Are car seats safe? CBS News, October 27, 2000.
40 Jeff Plungis, $106 million judgment against Chrysler and new safety studies intensify the debate over federal
standards, Detroit News, April 1, 2005; Seat Failures & Occupant Restraints,, http://www.safetyforum.
com/seatfailures/; Nicholas Perrone, Seatback Failures in Rear Impacts Resulting in Continuous Paralyzing Injuries
in Chrysler and GM Vehicles, Center for Auto Safety,

Friday, April 9, 2010

Navy Seal Hero

I BET YOU DIDN'T SEE THISIN THE NEWSPAPER OR ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS" The Sailor Pictured Below Is, Navy Petty Officer, PO2 (Petty Officer, Second Class) EOD2 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Second Class) "MIKE MONSOOR" April 5th, 1981 ~ September 29th, 2009 Mike Monsoor, Was Awarded "The Congressional Medal Of Honor" Last Week, For Giving His Life In Iraq , As He Jumped On, And Covered With His Body, A Live Hand Grenade, Saving The Lives Of A Large Group Of Navy Seals That Was Passing By! During Mike Monsoor's Funeral, At Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery , In San Diego , California, The Six Pallbearers Removed The Rosewood Casket From The Hearse, And Lined Up On Each Side Of Mike Monsoor's Casket, Where His Family Members, Friends, Fellow Sailors, And Well-wishers Were. The Column Of People Continued From The Hearse, All The Way To The Grave Site. What The Group Didn't Know At The Time Was, Every Navy Seal (45 To Be Exact) That Mike Monsoor Saved That Day Were Scattered Through-Out The Column! ~ As The Pallbearers Carried The Rosewood Casket Down The Column Of People To The Grave Site, The Column Would Collapse - Which Formed A Group Of People That Followed Behind. ~Every Time The Rosewood Casket Passed A Navy Seal, He Would Remove His Gold Trident Pin From His Uniform, And Slap It Down Hard, Causing The Gold Trident Pin To Embed Itself Into The Top Of The Wooden Casket! Then The Navy Seal Would Step Back From The Column, And Salute! ~ Now For Those, Who Don't Know What A Trident Pin Is, Here Is The Definition! ~ After One Completes The Basic Navy Seals Program Which Lasts For Three Weeks, And Is Followed By Seal Qualification Training, Which Is 15 More Weeks Of Training, Necessary To Continue Improving Basic Skills And To Learn New Tactics And Techniques, Required For An Assignment To A Navy Seal Platoon. After successful completion, Trainees Are Given Their Naval Enlisted Code, And Are Awarded The Navy Seal Trident Pin. With This Gold Pin They Are Now Officially Navy Seals! It Was Said, That You Could Hear Each Of The 45 Slaps From Across The Cemetery! By The Time The Rosewood Casket Reached The Grave Site, It Looked As Though It Had A Gold Inlay From The 45 Trident Pins That Lined The Top! This Was A Fitting End To An Eternal Send-Off For A Warrior Hero! This Should Be Front-Page News! Instead Of The Garbage We Listen To And See Every Day. ~ Here's A Good Idea! Since The Main Stream Media Won't Make This News. Then We Choose To Make It News By Forwarding It. ~ I Am Proud Of All The Branches Of Our Military. If You Are Proud Too, Please Pass This E-Mail On. ~ If you just delete This E-Mail, Rest Assured That The Fine Men And Women Of Our Military Will Continue To Serve And Protect Your Freedom And Right To Do So! <> "GOD BLESS AND KEEP OUR TROOPS SAFE!