Automakers Blame Drivers, But Settle Unintended Acceleration Cases

Two recent settlements in Unintended Acceleration (UA) cases remind us that while Toyota has sucked all the oxygen in the room over this defect, other automakers’ products equipped with electronic throttle controls are also getting their share of complaints, causing their share of injury and property damage and winding up in civil court.

In the last month, Thomas J. Murray & Associates, a law firm based in Sandusky, Ohio, reached confidential settlements against Kia Motors America and Subaru for seriously injured plaintiffs who claimed that their vehicles suffered an unintended acceleration event.

The first case involved Mary McDaniels, a visiting nurse from Norton, Ohio, who was returning to the office after seeing a patient, when the throttle of her 2006 KIA Amanti suddenly opened, as she crept along in stop-and-go traffic. With vehicles in front of her and oncoming traffic directly to her left, McDaniels chose to steer her rapidly accelerating sedan off the road.

Attorney Molly O’Neill says that McDaniels testified that her first reaction was: “What is happening to me?” When McDaniels looked down to affirm the position of her foot, she saw that it was on the brake. The Amanti hit a ditch, became airborne, skidded and collided with a tree. McDaniels’ leg was fractured in several places. She is unable to walk without assistance as a result of the Dec. 26, 2007 crash and had to give up her job.

McDaniels v Kia Motors America went to trial in October. Over two weeks of testimony, the Murrray legal team was able to show that Kia’s “American engineers were aware of unintended acceleration or surging events not ascribed to driver error,” O’Neill says. “They surmised it could be electronic.” McDaniels’ Kia was bought as “new” with a full warranty, even though it had 6,900 miles on it at the time of purchase and had been used by Kia as an in-house vehicle.

Tire Dealers Rally for RMA and Against Customers on Tire Aging Bill

It was all hands on deck yesterday afternoon at the Maryland House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee as tire makers and retailers tried to beat back another state effort to require tire sellers to disclose a tire’s age to consumers.

HB 729, Consumer Protection – Tire Age – Required Notice, requires tire sellers and distributors to place a label on the tire displaying the month and year in which the tire was manufactured and a statement about tire age and tire deterioration. The tire seller would also have to put the tire’s age on the receipt and have the customer sign a written disclosure about tire age. Customers would receive a copy of the disclosure, and the retailers would retain a copy of it for an unspecified amount of time. The penalty for violating the statute would be not more than $500.

Lawmakers Try to Close FDA Loopholes

A quartet of legislators has introduced a measure to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more authority in the medical device approval process to keep potentially harmful products from coming to market. The Safety Of Untested and New Devices Act of 2012 (SOUND Devices Act) would allow the FDA to reject a manufacturer’s application for a new medical device based on the approval for a similar product already in the marketplace – if that device has been subject to a safety recall.

The bill was submitted by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), all of whom serve on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The fourth sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), is a member the appropriations committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, the FDA and related agencies.

The legislation is in response to the recent recalls, civil lawsuits and warnings about defective medical devices, like metal-on-metal hip implant devices and synthetic surgical mesh products. To date, two metal-on-metal total hip replacements and one metal-on-metal hip resurfacing system have been recalled in the U.S. in 2008 and 2010 because they had a high rate of replacement in patients.  New research being presented today at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting in San Francisco shows that these faulty hip joints pose adverse health effects for some patients even after they are removed.

Michelin Rapped for "Bad Faith Conduct"

A federal judge in Atlanta has ordered to Michelin North American to pay attorneys’ fees and established that a Uniroyal Laredo Tire was “defective and unreasonably dangerous” as a sanction for nearly two years of discovery abuse.

“In sum, Michelin’s bad faith conduct caused serious prejudice to the integrity of the legal process and to Plaintiffs’ orderly, effective development and proof of their case,” U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, of the Northern District of Georgia, wrote in her 61-page decision. “The pattern of abuse by Michelin is extremely troubling.”

Judge Totenberg’s patience was pushed past its limits in Bates v. Michelin North America, a tread separation case. In November 2009, Johnny and Patricia Bates of Evergreen, Alabama sued Michelin North America for negligence and strict liability in a tire-related rollover crash. On December 25, 2008, Johnny Bates was belted and at the wheel of his 2001 GMC Jimmy travelling northbound on I-85 in Fulton County, Georgia, when the left rear tire, a Uniroyal Laredo suffered a tread separation. The tire failure caused a loss-of-control rollover, leaving Mrs. Bates with injuries. Mr. Bates suffered catastrophic and permanent spinal and brain injuries that have left him a quadriplegic.

The Atlanta firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP, who represented the Bates family, requested that Michelin produce, among other things, warranty adjustment data, design and production tolerances and documents relating to specific defects. But, after a year of wrangling over confidentiality and the scope of the request, Michelin had only produced a “strikingly small” number of documents. On January 3, 2011, the Court ordered Michelin to produce all of the documents the Bates family sought. Michelin petitioned for reconsideration, and, after losing that round, continued to withhold the documents.

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