Richard Binko, Esq., a lawyer from Cheektowaga, NY and the current President of the NYS Trial Lawyers Association, wrote a commentary piece that was published in the Syracuse Post Standard on March 15, 2010. The online version of that article can be found here. I felt the piece deserved an even broader audience, so we are including it here as well.
“The police in Auburn want to know what’s in Toyota’s black boxes — or at least the one in the 2010 Camry that killed Colleen Trousdale when it ran wild and slammed into her car the day after Thanksgiving. But Toyota isn’t telling.
The box, called an “event data recorder,” is similar to those in airplanes, but it locks up the data in a system so secret that federal investigators, and even Toyota itself, say they cannot yet decode it.
The black box is only the latest episode in the mystery of the runaway Toyotas. Despite a public uproar, no one has determined what caused so many to accelerate uncontrollably, killing and maiming dozens of people around the country. Federal regulators were satisfied with Toyota’s limited recalls, even when they clearly didn’t resolve the problems.
So, in this era of deregulation and rising corporate influence, victims are turning to the one branch of government that isn’t compromised: the courts. Here, they hope, they can force Toyota to grant access to its black-box data and the records of the last awful moments in the company’s crashing cars.
These are not litigious opportunists. They are victims. And our civil justice system, older than the country itself, is designed to find the causes of injury inflicted on the unsuspecting. In the courts, victims of countless hazardous products — Chevrolet Corvairs and Ford Pintos, toxic drugs, cancer-causing asbestos, defective baby seats and cribs — have found both justice and answers.
As for Toyota, consider the record so far. The company insists that faulty floor mats and pedals are to blame, and in the face of evidence that the acceleration problem is not just mechanical but electronic, Toyota is sticking to its story.
Congressional committees elicited very few answers in their recent hearings. And the auto industry’s chief regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is only slowly awakening from eight years of industry-friendly torpor.
NHTSA turned away Toyota owners who complained, citing a “need to allocate and prioritize NHTSA’s limited resources,” according to the agency’s own documents. And not once in six years did the agency use its subpoena power to get information from the company.
At the same time, Toyota, like many regulated manufacturers, hired away its regulators. Two former NHTSA officials “managed” federal investigations and recalls for Toyota, which boasted at one point that their efforts saved the company $100 million.
The agency may or may not uncover the secrets in Toyota’s black boxes. But the courts can and will. And the result will be an enormous correction for individual victims and, more importantly, for all Americans. The civil justice system is designed not to punish, but to find the facts, inform the public and provide incentives for manufacturers to police themselves.
Champions of “tort reform” would cripple the system even as manufacturing becomes more complex and government more compromised. Let’s not go there.”
Attorney Binko makes several excellent points. The NHTSA, the supposed watchdog of the car companies, has been asleep at the switch for years and has no real teeth. These huge multinational car companies don’t give a flip about you or me or our families. The only place you can hurt them is in the pocketbook. The court systems of this country are the only place the average person can get justice from companies like these, the only place where the average Joes of the world stand on equal footing with the Toyotas of the world. The next time someone mentions “tort reform” like its a good thing, think where you will go to obtain justice if it is your family that gets wiped out by a dangerous product that no one cared enough about to fix.
Thanks for reading,
Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Personal Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY 14901