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Thursday, November 13, 2014

GM’s Response to Dangerous Vehicle Defects

GM’s Response to Dangerous Vehicle Defects
By Caleb Thurston, Intern
The Cochran Firm

It’s hard to believe that the weight of car keys could increase the risk of losing control of your vehicle, cause you to crash, and result in serious injury or even death. However, many owners of GM vehicles currently face this problem. When key chains are too heavy and the vehicle jars or goes off road, the force of this jolt can cause the vehicle’s ignition to slip out of the “run” position. Subsequently, the engine, power steering, power braking, and airbags will fail immediately, creating an extremely dangerous situation for the driver.

When defects are discovered who is responsible to remedy the issue, and how does this process work?

Vehicle defects are typically discovered in two ways. Vehicle manufacturers discover the defect, or the Secretary of Transportation discovers the defect and notifies the manufacturer of the issue. When a vehicle manufacturer discovers a defect they must decide in good faith whether the defect is significantly related to motor vehicle safety. If so, the manufacturer must notify the Secretary of Transportation, automotive dealers, and all most recent owners of that type of vehicle “known to the manufacturer.” “Known to the manufacturer,” means each registered owner of the defected vehicle whose name and address are reasonably ascertainable by the manufacturer.

According to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (NHTSA), manufacturers’ notice must include:
·       A clear description of the defect
·       An evaluation of the risk to motor vehicle safety reasonably related to the defect
·       The measures to be taken to remedy the defect
·       A statement that the manufacturer will remedy the defect without charge
·       Time period allowed for repairing the defect within

If notice fails to meet each of these requirements, the Secretary of Transportation may order the manufacturer to comply with notice requirements or may take other action as needed. A hearing can be conducted, and depending on the severity of the possible risks associated with the defect, the Secretary may order manufacturers to take additional steps to find and notify customers.

Manufacturers may not escape liability in these types of cases by simply notifying dealers who sell their products. Dealers could fail to provide proper notification to customers or properly repair defected vehicles. Even if dealers are notified, the injuries of the customers were significantly related to the manufacturer’s defect, and that defect is held to be the legal cause of those injuries.

In order for the acts of a third party (party other than the manufacturer) to become the only legal cause of the customer’s injuries:
·       The act of a third party must not be foreseeable, or reasonably anticipated, by the manufacturer,
·       The act of a third party must not be triggered or caused by the manufacturer,
·       And the act of a third party must be sufficient, or enough by itself, to cause the customer’s injuries.

A manufacturer may escape liability if customers fail to comply with a reasonable recall program within the given time period. Failure to comply with the requirements of a recall program is sufficient to break the chain of causation between the wrongful acts of the manufacturer and the injuries of the plaintiff. Failure to participate in the recall program during the assigned timeframe then becomes the cause of the injuries sustained.

Why Won’t Customers Partake in Recall Programs?

Federal law requires manufacturers to remedy defects that affect motor vehicle safety for free. The average recall-repair rate is 75% in the U.S. per year, but recently fewer people are taking their cars in for recall repair. To offset this issue, GM is now offering $25 online gift cards to different stores for customers who comply with recall programs. The NHTSA supports this program, declaring that “it shows a heightened level of commitment by GM to make sure recall repairs are made.” However, this collaborative incentive promotion between GM and NHTSA is only offered to those who have done absolutely nothing to set up recall repairs.

Will incentive programs eventually produce a negative impact? Since only those who waited until the last minute received gift cards, will customers of defected products wait until the last minute to pursue recall repairs in hopes of receiving award incentives?

Issuing gift cards for people who proactively deal with recalls could provide better incentives for customers to respond promptly to a recall repair. However, other manufacturers such as Toyota have seen enormous improvements in recall responses by providing access to 24-hour repair services.

posted by The Cochran Firm at 2:10 PM

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