Thursday, October 31, 2013

NHTSA investigates Jeep Liberty for fire risk.

In continuing coverage, the Los Angeles Times (10/30, Undercoffler, 3.07M) reports that NHTSA has opened a preliminary investigation into complaints of fires in the driver’s door of 2012 Jeep Liberty SUVs. NHTSA says it has received two reports from consumers, with one person injured. NHTSA also notes that one of the vehicles caught fire a second time after it was repaired.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pre-trial hearing to be held today in Paterno family lawsuit.

The Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News (10/28, Thompson, 339K) reports that the NCAA has a hearing today in the lawsuit brought by the family of former Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno. The Patriot-News states that the NCAA’s attorneys will “try to kill” the lawsuit by “arguing that plaintiffs – including late coaching legend Joe Paterno’s estate, a group of Penn State trustees, and former Nittany Lion players and coaches – have no standing to contest an agreement negotiated and signed onto last year by University President Rodney Erickson.” The article continues on to discuss the specifics of the case.

        The AP (10/29) reports that the session was scheduled so Judge John Leete can “hear lawyers argue over whether the breach of contract, defamation and commercial disparagement claim should be thrown out.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Toyota Recalling 885,000 Cars for Air Bags
Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday it is recalling 885,000 vehicles worldwide due to air bags that could inadvertently deploy because of an electrical problem. The recall includes the 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid and Venza.
The recall covers 803,000 vehicles in the United States. Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said two minor injuries have been reported and no crashes. In the North American market, Toyota has received 35 reports of the air bag warning light turning on, and three reports of inadvertent deployment of the air bag.
Toyota said water from the air conditioning condenser unit housing could leak water onto the air bag control module and cause a short circuit. That could cause the air bag warning light to turn on, or the air bags could become disabled or could inadvertently deploy.
Toyota said the power-steering assist function could also become inoperable if a communication line in the air bag control module is damaged. Loss of power-steering assist results in increased steering effort.
Toyota dealers will apply sealant and install a cover to the air conditioning condenser unit housing seam located above the airbag control module.

Recalls becoming more common even as vehicle safety improves.

The Automotive News (10/28, Nelson, Beene, 188K) reports that while experts agree the vehicles today are safer than every before, “recalls remain a persistent and costly reality, with repair tabs that likely total in the tens of billions of dollars each year.” The News notes that last year there were 154 recalls, affecting 14.2 million vehicles. While recalls can be very expensive, protracted crises of past years have become rare due to more proactive automakers and the TREAD Act. Meanwhile, the NHTSA has issued requirements that automakers make recall notices “more official-looking and, by next summer, set up a searchable online database for customers to see whether their vehicles have been recalled.” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a July interview that the agency must reassess a potential risk “if state of the art moves all the peers in one direction, and it appears that there is another part of the fleet that has not made those same moves or improvements.”
        So far this year, 143 recalls of cars and light trucks. According to the Automotive News (10/27, 188K), it turns out that in this year so far, automakers have issued “143 recalls in the 273 days through September,” or one “practically every other day,” which all told affect around “18.5 million cars and light trucks – well more than the number of new vehicles sold.” Also of note, the article observes that year-on-year recall numbers can vary, but grouped by decade “the numbers have climbed steadily.” The article clarifies as well that its figures come from its own “analysis of nearly a half century’s worth of data” from NHTSA.
        Nissan recalling 150,000 vehicles. The website for KABC-TV Los Angeles (10/25, 175K) reports that “more than 150,000 Nissan vehicles are being recalled” because, at times, on rough roads gently applying the brakes does not engage the “antilock brake software,” increasing the risk of a crash. The automaker said it “will notify owners of the issue,” and the article describes the recall vehicles as “certain model year 2013-2014 Pathfinder vehicles manufactured April 18, 2012 through Sept. 20, 2013; model year 2013 Infiniti JX35 vehicles manufactured Sept. 5, 2011 through Jan. 16, 2013; and model year 2014 Infiniti QX60 vehicles manufactured Jan. 17, 2013 through Sept. 20, 2013.”

NHTSA investigation looking into Jeep Liberty fires.

Following two reported incidents of 2012 Jeep Liberty SUVs catching fire in the driver’s side doors, the AP (10/25) reports that a spokesperson for Chrysler, Eric Mayne, “said Chrysler is cooperating with NHTSA and is conducting its own investigation. NHTSA investigations often lead to vehicle recalls.” According to the article, both incidents “began in the area of the master power window switch.”

        Reuters (10/25) also reports, saying that NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation began a preliminary probe to analyze the scope and severity of the problem, which the article notes often develops into some sort of recall.

Oklahoma Toyota ruling notable for arguing electronic defect caused acceleration.

The AP (10/26, Murphy) has continuing coverage of the decision Thursday by an Oklahoma jury to find Toyota liable in its crash case involving “a sudden unintended acceleration,” awarding $3 million to the driver and the victim’s family. Yesterday, Judge Patricia Parrish made the announcement that “the parties reached a deal that eliminated the need for the second stage of the trial over punitive damages,” while Toyota issued a statement on how “it disagreed with the verdict, and vowed to ‘defend our products vigorously at trial in other legal venues.’” As for the ruling itself, the article points out that the decision holds some amount of precedent because this was the “first case” in which plaintiff presented the argument that the “car’s electronics – in this case the software connected to the Camry’s electronic throttle-control system – caused the unintended acceleration.”
        The New York Times (10/26, Trop, Subscription Publication, 9.61M) reports, the lawyer for both plaintiff parties, J. Cole Portis, commented, “Toyota’s conduct from the time the electronic throttle control system was designed has been shameful...We appreciate that the jury had the courage to let Toyota and the public know that Toyota was reckless.” Like the AP coverage, the New York Times indicates the novelty of the ruling, with University of Southern California law professor Gregory Keating said the verdict “suggests that absent specific evidence of another cause, the default conclusion is that sudden acceleration is caused by a defect in the car for which Toyota is responsible.”
        Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times (10/26, Hirsch, Bensinger, 3.07M) even says that the ruling “could embolden attorneys nationwide” in search of recreating the results in “hundreds of similar cases.” It also observes how in the three other similar jury cases where Toyota won, “none alleged the software defect that was in Barr’s testimony.”
        CNN Money (10/26, Isidore) also reports. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jury rules Michael Jackson’s promoter not liable in singer’s death.

The CBS Evening News reported that a Los Angeles jury in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Michael Jackson’s family against his concert promoter, on Wednesday ruled “in favor of the promoter, A.E.G. Live, saying it was not negligent when it hired Dr. Conrad Murray to treat Jackson who died before he could begin a concert series.”

        NBC Nightly News reported that Jackson’s mother “and his three children filed the suit arguing that AEG Live had negligently hired” Murray, who “was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson that powerful dose of propofol that killed him in June of 2009.”

        ABC World News reported, “This trial dragged out more than five months, more than 50 witnesses heard from and, in the end, it took the jury less than 14 hours to decide. And they decided, essentially, in favor of AEG, ruling that while AEG did hire Michael Jackson’s doctor, the company is not culpable for Jackson’s death.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shutdown halts NHTSA recall notices, crash tests.

USA Today (10/1, 5.82M) reports that the NHTSA will note be posting any new recall notices during the government shutdown. A notice on the NHTSA website says, “Due to a lapse of Federal Government funding, NHTSA is unable to post any new recalls after close of business September 30, 2013.” The notice says that “recall searches will remain available but are only current as of that time.” USA Today notes that automakers can still announce their own recalls.

        Also reporting are the New York Daily News (10/2, Bowling, 3.94M), Cars (10/2, 402K), Autoblog (10/1, Korzeniewski, 266K), and InAutoNews (10/2).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Federal government shuts down.

Most of the coverage of the budget shutdown standoff last night and this morning echoes the President’s arguments, placing nearly all the blame on conservatives in Congress intent on undoing the Affordable Care Act. Though this narrative is little changed from the previous days’ news cycles, it was bolstered by the timing of the President’s remarks at the White House Monday afternoon, which assured that his framing of the standoff would dominate the evening newscasts. All three networks gave far more air time to the President’s comments and those from Democrats in Congress than to the arguments made by their Republican antagonists.

        Alone among the networks, NBC broke into its regularly scheduled programming at 12:01 this morning with a minute-long report on the onset of the Federal government shutdown. NBC News’ Brian Williams said, “The Federal government has started the process of shutting down for the first time in 17 years, at least large portions of it,” and “millions of Americans will be affected by it.” Williams added, “If there’s a saving grace, the President has ordered active-duty military to still get their pay.”

        In an echo of the media’s coverage of the Federal shutdown in 1995, at midnight CNN featured shots of the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty as Piers Morgan announced: “The Washington Monument, the heart of the capital, closed. The Statue of Liberty...shut down. Across the country, monument like the St. Louis Gateway Arch, closed.” CNN went to show a clip of the President, described by Morgan as “clearly exasperated,” warning of the negative impact of a shutdown earlier on Monday.

        Notably, just after midnight, Fox News featured an extended (three-and-a-half minute) live shot of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denouncing “the Tea Party, the anarchists,” and blaming them for inflicting an “unnecessary blow to America.” A few minutes later on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer said the President “knows he’s got the politics on his side,” before adding, “I’m looking for a fairly quick surrender on the side of the Republicans, who understand that, at this point, it’s a losing proposition.”

        This morning’s Wall Street Journal (10/1, Hook, Peterson, Subscription Publication, 5.91M) features the front-page headline “Congress Fails to Prevent Government Shutdown: Senate Rejects House Bill To Delay Part Of Health Law; Obama Decries ‘Ransom.’” The Journal reports that at midnight, the White House released a video of President Obama addressing members of the military, saying, “Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility. It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again.”

        Early this morning, Politico (10/1, Sherman, Bresnahan, Everett, 467K) reported that “the partisan gridlock...proved insurmountable, as House Republicans continue to insist on changing, delaying or defunding Obamacare as the price for keeping the government open.” Politico adds that “polls show Republicans will bear the blame for this shutdown,” and that Speaker Boehner “has privately warned House Republicans that they could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government.”

        Brian Williams, in the first segment for NBC Nightly News, apportioned some blame to both parties, saying, “This simplest way to put it is this: the Republican-controlled House is passing bills the Democratically-controlled Senate keeps rejecting.” But NBC’s Chuck Todd went on to report that “a new poll shows Republicans would bear more blame for a shutdown: 36% put the responsibility on the President, 46% on Republicans.” NBC showed six clips of either the President, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking – a total of about 85 words – as opposed to one seven-word remark from Sen. Ted Cruz.

        In the lead story for the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley said House Republicans are willing to let the government shut down “unless they get a one-year delay in one of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act – also known as ‘Obamacare.’” Pelley added, “Forty-four times before Republicans have tried to delay or defund the healthcare law without success.”

        At the opening of ABC World New, Diane Sawyer said, “We have been tracking the words all of you have been using all day about what is going on in Washington – words like ‘bizarre,’ ‘sabotage,’ ‘blackmail’ and ‘enough.’” Sawyer added that the President “expressed outrage that ‘one faction in one house of Congress’ is ready to bring the entire Federal government to a halt.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl went on to report that the President “placed the blame entirely on conservative Republicans in the House demanding an end to Obamacare.” After featuring some of the President’s remarks, ABC showed similar condemnations of Congressional conservatives from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Reid and Schumer before showing Speaker Boehner calling for a “one-year delay of Obamacare.”

        Likewise, on the CBS Evening News, correspondent Major Garrett reported that the White House “calls House Republicans ‘extortionists,’” and the President has warned that “a government shutdown would harm Federal workers, as well as the broader economy, and undercut American prestige.”

        According to the Washington Post (10/1, Montgomery, Kane, 4.28M), House Republicans, who have “clung tenaciously to their demand that any agreement to fund federal agencies must also undermine” the ACA, are to blame for the shutdown. The Post reports that on Monday night, on a 228 to 201 vote, the House “approve[d] the third GOP proposal in two weeks to fund the government — a plan that would delay enforcement of the ‘individual mandate,’ a cornerstone of the legislation that requires all Americans to obtain health coverage in 2014.”

        Holder decries “dysfunction,” warns of effects of government shutdown. Politico (9/30, Gerstein, 467K) reports in its “Under The Radar” blog that “normally mild-mannered” Attorney General Eric Holder “showed a flash of anger Monday as he discussed the impacts of a looming government shutdown and the so-called budget sequester on rank-and-file workers at the Justice Department. ‘This has real-world consequences for the employees of this department, who have to pay mortgages, who have to pay car notes, who have to buy groceries and I think that is something that people as they’re trying to make their political points need to keep in mind: there are good, hardworking Americans who are going to suffer because of this dysfunction – and I’m mad about that. I have to say that this is something it seems to me can be worked through. People are trying to make a political point and I’m trying to run a Justice Department. We’re trying to keep the American people safe. We’re trying to keep crime down.”

        The Washington Times (10/1, Boyer, 417K) reports that Holder “said he would take a voluntary pay cut because of political ‘dysfunction.’” Holder said Justice Department officials “were still evaluating how many furlough notices to send out in the event that Congress and the White House fail to reach a temporary budget deal before midnight Monday. ‘It is entirely possible that we will have to put on furlough FBI agents, prosecutors as a result of ... the dysfunction that exists primarily in the House,’” Holder said.

        AFP (10/1) reports that Holder “promised that ‘national security would be protected. But on the civil side, we will not do the job American people expect of us.”

        Federal courts to remain open during government shutdown. Reuters (9/30) reports that Federal courts will continue to hear cases without interruption during the government shutdown, but the Justice Department announced that Federal prosecutors would seek to delay non-critical civil matters, and there is a chance that some judicial staff members could be furloughed, while others might be required to work without pay.

        The Minneapolis Star Tribune (10/1, Mitchell, 1.14M) reports that the US District Court in Minnesota “posted a notice on its web site that normal operations will continue on Tuesday if there is a shutdown. All cases, including civil and criminal jury trails will continue, the clerk’s office will remain open, and the court web site where court documents are now filed electronically will continue to operate.” Prosecutors “in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Minneapolis stay on duty, but only for ‘essential public safety work,’ said Jeanne Cooney, director of community relations. ‘We have some trials (in progress) and they will keep going.’”

        The Denver Post (10/1, McGhee, 949K) reports that Federal courts in Colorado will remain operating during the shutdown. The US District Court in Colorado posted on its website, “In the event of a government shutdown on October 1, 2013, the federal Judiciary will remain open for business for approximately 10 business days. On or around October 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance.” Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the Denver US Attorney’s office, said, “My understanding is that the courts have enough money to operate for 10 days into a lapse of appropriation. Regarding the Department of Justice, matters of public safety and the protection of life and property will keep most of the criminal division and some in the civil and appellate divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office functioning. Other activities have been scaled back, postponed, or canceled.”

        The Detroit Free Press (10/1, 794K) reports that Federal courthouses in eastern Michigan “likely would keep the doors open for a while even if a budget impasse forces a government shutdown.” Court spokesman Rod Hansen “says it would be ‘pretty much business as usual’ for approximately 10 days. There are some major court hearings in early October, especially the sentencing of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Oct. 10.”

        Polls, analysts suggest shutdown is likely to be blamed on GOP. The Washington Post (10/1, Gold, Rucker, O'Keefe, 4.28M) asserts that there is a “hardening public perception that [the GOP] is primarily to blame for setting the crisis in motion,” and reports that “a Washington Post-ABC News poll (9/30, Clement, 4.28M) released Monday showed that a fed-up public disapproves most of all of congressional Republicans.” According to the Post, 26% “approve of how congressional Republicans have handled the budget negotiations, while 34 percent approve of the efforts of Democratic lawmakers and 41 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the situation.”

        According to Bloomberg News (9/30, Tiron, Rubin, Hunter, 1.91M), the overwhelming majority of House Republicans make the case that they “are trying to save Americans from the effects of...Obamacare, and that Democrats won’t negotiate.” But Bloomberg also reported that a recent Bloomberg National poll found that “Americans narrowly blame Republicans for what’s gone wrong in Washington, just as they did when the government closed in 1995 and 1996.”

        Under the headline, “Poll: Republicans Would Get Most Blame For Shutdown,” McClatchy (10/1, Lightman, 95K) reported that “a new CNN/ORC poll released Monday,” which was conducted between Friday and Sunday, “found 46 percent would blame Republicans while 36 percent would blame” the President, and 13% “blame both sides.”

        The Wall Street Journal (9/30, Hughes, Subscription Publication, 5.91M) reports that on Fox News on Monday morning, Sen. John Thune said, “The president and Democrats here in Congress would like to see a government shutdown.” The Journal also reports that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) commented, “They’re all giddy about it. You know who benefits the most here from a shutdown? The Democrats benefit, and they know that.”

        The Los Angeles Times (10/1, Mascaro, Memoli, 3.07M) reported that Monday’s developments “worsened divisions within the GOP caucus, with both moderates and conservatives raising objections, creating more uncertainty as the deadline for action neared.” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is quoted as saying, “We have too many people who live in their own echo chamber. It’s a dead end. We’re going to shut the government down, and when all is said and done we’re going to get blamed for it.”

        The Washington Post (10/1, Helderman, O'Keefe, 4.28M) profiles Nunes and King in an article on the “few dozen [GOP] lawmakers from swing districts and suburbs mostly in the Northeast and California,” who might play a central role in resolving the shutdown standoff. The Post notes that at the time of the 1995 shutdown, “more than a third of House Republicans hailed from congressional districts that had been won by” President Clinton in 1992, but “today, just 17 House Republicans come from districts won last year by President Obama.”

        In a front-page article, the New York Times (10/1, A1, Parker, Subscription Publication, 9.61M) covers more conservative members of the House Republican caucus who believe that the current strategy they are pursuing is, if not a political winner, the least they can do for their constituents who want “Obamacare” repealed. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is quoted as saying, “We can recover from a political squabble, but we can never recover from Obamacare.”
        Shutdown will force NHTSA to stop vehicle investigations. The Detroit News (10/1, Shepardson, 619K) reports, “The government’s auto safety regulator will halt defect investigations and public notification of new auto recalls in the event Congress fails to approve funding for the new budget year that starts Tuesday.” The News notes that NHTSA will furlough 333 of its 597 employees. The Agency said, “Functions funded by the Highway Trust Fund will continue, while those funded by annual appropriations will be suspended, including safety defect investigations, field crash investigations, review of consumer complaints and notification of new vehicle and equipment recalls.”