Civil Justice System Spurs Auto Safety Advances

Miley Legal Group

With the world’s biggest automaker, Toyota, still struggling with sudden acceleration problems in some of its vehicles, an important new report has been released that shows the key role the civil justice system has played in encouraging auto safety during the last 50 years.

The report, entitled “Driven to Safety: How Litigation has Spurred Auto Safety Innovations,” was released by the American Association for Justice this past April and illustrates how design defect litigation has helped to reveal defects in cars and trucks, expose weaknesses in regulations, enforce safety standards, and deter auto manufacturers from skimping on safety in an effort to boost profits.

One of the examples cited in the report was how litigation led to the improvements in the safety of power window controls on cars.  American auto manufacturers had been well aware of some of the potential problems with their “rocker” style switches, which if leaned onto could inadvertently lead to a window closing and trapping a child.  Tragically, in 2004, during a span of just three months, seven children died from accidents involving power window controls.

And even though auto manufacturers started to offer safer “pull-up” style switches on vehicles sold in foreign markets, it wasn’t until they were faced with litigation that they began to install the safer switches on domestic vehicles, since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not have any rules in place regarding power window safety.

Other safety improvements mentioned in the report that arose from design defect litigation include:

  • Important life-saving modifications and repairs to vehicle gas tanks
  • Seat belts
  • Side-impact design
  • Roof strength
  • Tires
  • Electronic stability control
  • Door latches
  • Air bags
  • Power windows and seats

The full report on auto safety improvements spurred by litigation can be viewed at