These days, it’s popular to blame trial lawyers for almost EVERYTHING bad. However, it’s important to remind folks of the GOOD that comes out of lawsuits that have served to make our lives safer.
Trial lawyers have helped in changing safety standards in everything from flammable pajamas that needlessly killed thousands of children to seat belt laws to safer workplaces to safer cars to safer highways….
The bottom line is that consumer lawsuits have saved countless lives because corporate America responds to one punishment– HIT THEM IN THE WALLET AND THEY WILL RESPOND! Sad to say but corporate engineers are constantly weighing the costs of improving a product to make a product safer versus the possible costs of lawsuits for people who are injured or killed because a less safe design was used. Because of this cold, hard, dollars-and-cents analysis, the costs of a possible lawsuit have the direct effect of making products safer. And that is GOOD for all of us!
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post about safer automobiles got me thinking about how trial lawyers have made a difference in all of our lives.
Gibson Vance, the president of the American Association for Justice, reminds us of the role litigation has played in improving safety for motorists. In the April 15, 2011, op-ed “How our cars got safer,” Mr. Vance said new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures show that traffic deaths are at their lowest since 1949.
Mr. Vance observed that better technology, better regulations and better-informed consumers all made an impact, then he made this important and often-overlooked point: “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.”
Rather than cave to ongoing pressure from auto manufacturers to ease regulations and limit liability, legislators must continue to hold manufacturers accountable and protect consumers’ access to the civil justice system.
Mr. Vance cites as an example the litigation that drove American automakers to universally implement safer switches on power windows. The deaths of seven children in a three-month period in 2004, killed by power windows in cars, and the litigation that followed, led U.S. automakers to change the switches from ones you push down to raise the window to ones you have to lift up to raise the window. Children no longer get trapped accidentally in the windows by leaning on the switches.
Mr. Vance also said the auto industry has, for years, “worked to undermine regulations and limits its liability by pushing for complete immunity from lawsuits when their vehicles comply with minimum federal safety standards.”
As he correctly points out, this would be DEVASTATING for consumers.
He concludes: “… 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.”
An important report:
To learn more about the role of litigation in safer automobiles, read the American Association for Justice report, “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Spurred Auto Safety Innovations.” I think you’ll find it interesting, important and eye-opening reading.