Forget The Government… It's The Trial Lawyer To The Rescue
February 22, 2010
In a time of carping about our “litigious society,” it’s time to recognize once more that litigation over dangerous products and services can avert countless deaths and injuries.
The courts provide an early warning system, alerting regulators and news organizations to hazards that the public wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. The courts also command responses from manufacturers who might have been able to fend off regulators. More important, the civil justice system is often the catalyst that forces lasting solutions.
In six years of reviews, NHTSA never used its authority to subpoena records from Toyota. But while the company was still dancing around the regulators’ requests in December, lawyers for Alberto’s family grilled a key Toyota official for two days. Other court cases were producing details about the company’s manufacturing processes.
By this time, Toyota had issued limited recalls. The company would soon make public acknowledgments and expand recalls. But while Toyota was focusing on the floor mats and “sticky” accelerator pedals, plaintiffs’ advocates and their experts raised the wider and more dangerous possibility of problems in the electronic system controlling the throttle in many Toyota models.
We have seen this pattern before. We no longer have the deadly Chevrolet Corvair or the exploding Ford Pinto, and we have a safer auto industry overall, largely because discoveries made in the courts prompted overhauls in regulation and oversight.