With all the great new technology in auto safety, and as we seemingly transition towards self driving cars, old problems still rear their ugly heads to remind us that cars are machines, built by people, and that quality and safety are never things you can take for granted.
New Recall News
The first piece of concerning recall news came from Ford, which recently announced a recall of various Ford vehicles because of concern that the steering wheel would come off. The recalls apply to certain Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ models.
The good news is that according to Ford, it knows of only one injury as a result of the steering wheel problem, and two accidents overall. It is certainly not uncommon for automakers to recall vehicles before mass injuries occur, and in fact, that is a pretty responsible policy.
What should be a little concerning is that the recalls are coming now, even though it appears that drivers had been complaining about loose steering wheels for many years. In 2015, there was at least one report of a steering wheel detatching, and Ford documents admit that it began looking into the problem at that time.
This comes after Ford had some problems with door latches. Recalls were issued when it was discovered that they could fail, causing doors to fly open while the vehicle was being driven.
In separate news that concerns auto safety, the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating whether a series of accidents which included fatalities were the result of airbags that did not deploy in some Hyundai Sonatas and Kia Fortes.
Hyundai already has recalled some 2011 cars because of the problem, but the fixes can not be implemented in consumers’ cars yet because Hyundai says it does not actually “have a fix in place.”
Part of the problem may be that according to Hyundai, the airbag failures happened in accidents that are “unique,” and the company is trying to determine what causes damage to the airbag unit in these particular types of accidents.
You may remember recent airbag supplier Takata, which recalled about 37 million units. Unlike this recent problem, which involved an airbag’s failure to deploy, Takata’s units deployed spontaneously, sending shrapnel into the faces of the car’s occupants.
Secrecy Surrounds Airbag Cases
Although a steering wheel falling off its hinges seems pretty straightforward, issues surrounding airbag failures can be much more difficult for government inspectors and accident victims to pin down.
One reason is the technology involved and the secrecy in that technology. You probably know that airbags are programmed to deploy when they sense a certain amount of force on the car (this is, of course, explaining the process very simply).
You probably did not know that there is not a uniform “force standard” that all cars have to follow before the bag deploys. A Ford’s airbag may deploy when the car is hit with a certain amount of force from a certain direction, and a Lexus’ airbag may deploy with totally different force and direction parameters.
Making things more difficult, how and when each car’s airbags are programmed to deploy is generally considered a company’s trade secret, and guarded heavily by the company, making it difficult for inspectors or victims who are injured when an airbag does not deploy to investigate what went wrong when it looks like an airbag is defective.
That is not the only way manufacturers make it difficult to investigate air bag cases. Event data recorders are like “black boxes” for cars, recording data about a car’s speed, direction, and how it was being driven at the time of the accident. This data can be crucial to determining how and why an airbag did not deploy.
This is a feature on newer car models. Many older models do not have recorders,at least, not ones that the consumer can access. In fact, many older models have recorders that are not advertised or even known about to the general public, but which can be accessed only by the manufacturer. Often, an investigator or attorney will need to compel a car manufacturer to obtain and interpret this information.
Consumer Awareness is Key
One of the biggest safety concerns when it comes to vehicle recalls may be us—the cars’ owners. According to one report, about 25% of all vehicles that have been recalled have not been fixed. People just are not diligent about fixing recalls, even though they are done at no cost to the consumer.
In fairness, recalls are not just issued for defects that cause safety problems. Defective radios or air conditioners can also be recalled, and it may be easy to just ignore a recall notice or dismiss it as not having to do with a major safety concern.
Remember that old cars can have recalls also; in many cases, defects are found in older model cars.
When a car has a recall, you will be notified by mail, but you can sign up at https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/subscriptions for emailed notifications. The NHTSA also maintains a database, so if you can not remember whether you have seen a recall notice in the mail, you can check your car’s VIN for one here: https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues.
Recalls in Product Liability Trials
Recalls are not always admissible in court, and they are definitely not absolute proof of a defective product, although sometimes the data surrounding recall investigations can be helpful.
In some cases, evidence that a consumer received a recall notice, knew of the dangers, and failed to do anything about it could be used to lessen a manufacturer’s liability, if the accident occurred after a recall notice was issued.
Lastly, remember that a manufacturer does not have to have had a product be recalled to be liable for product liability. In fact, there are just as many product liability cases involving products that never see a recall than for those that do.
If you are injured in a car accident there may be many causes, and a defective product may be just one of those causes. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation if you are injured by a malfunctioning or defective product.