ABC 20/20 with Elizabeth Vargas takes on the kids-unattended-in-cars hysteria, interviewing Lenore Skenazy and discussing the growing tendency of random passersby to take on the role of informant and call the cops when they see kids — even older kids on cool days — alone in parked cars.
Government is busy chasing century-old transit formats [Randal O'Toole, Cato; more] And Marc Scribner cautions libertarians against buying too heavily into a “regulated ridesharing” legal framework that could impede the emergence of something much better in ten or twenty years when self-driving vehicles are common [Skeptical Libertarian]
“It may sound silly, but lost resale value is what cost Toyota a whopping $1.3 billion in claims when those suits were settled in late 2012.” And if lawyers can extract $1.3 billion in a case where there was nothing wrong with the cars, imagine how much they might extract in a case where there was. [Jalopnik]
Hyundai expects to appeal a $240 million punitive award in Montana [ABA Journal on award and causation dispute]
After the spectacular crash of a Porsche Carrera GT killed driver Roger Rodas and his passenger, Hollywood actor Paul Walker, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol investigated and concluded that the crash was due not to mechanical problems but to unsafe speeds of up to 94 mph; the vehicle crashed into three trees. Longtime Overlawyered favorite attorney Mark Geragos “said he hired the top experts in the country” for an unbiased evaluation. The resulting wrongful death lawsuit by Kristine M. Rodas against automaker Porsche “says her husband was driving at 55 mph” contrary to the official version. [New York Post]
The Wall Street Journal last month (paywalled, no link) reported on how the long-moribund British auto industry now has a striking success, BMW’s Mini plant in Oxford, along with a hopeful sign for the future, Tata Motors Ltd.’s plans to invest $2.5 billion in its Jaguar plant in Solihull:
Workplace flexibility is a big factor behind the success of the U.K.’s auto industry, experts say. The Mini plant operates under the “working time account” model, which lets employees build up extra working hours that they can then draw on in downtime. …
“This is impossible in the rest of Europe on any relevant scale because of local legislation that protects workers’ rights and pay,” said John Leech, head of the U.K. automotive section at consultancy KPMG.
Olympia, Wash.: “A community college says it’s the pride of their automotive technology program: a rare Dodge Viper donated to their school worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” It’s believed to be the fourth one off the assembly line. But now Chrysler has “ordered the destruction of their entire educational Viper fleet.” It seems that while the prototypes were never meant to be driven on public roads, “two of them somehow got out and into accidents, costing Chrysler’s parent company millions of dollars.” Things might be different if our law respected a sale or other contractual agreement between Chrysler and the school as reason to release the manufacturer from a suit filed by an injured third party. But it doesn’t. Chrysler’s deadline for ordering the cars crushed has now passed; no word at present as to whether any of the cars have been reprieved or otherwise survived. [KING, AutoWeek, Tacoma News Tribune, Motor Trend]
Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.
I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.
A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.
Hilarious: Steven Pearlstein column gloats re: unstoppable UAW-at-Volkswagen tide of history, reaches print after vote [WaPo; "claque," "rabid," "Babbitts," etc.] “We also looked at the track record of the UAW. Why buy a ticket on the Titanic?” [Reuters] “No wonder they wanted card check.” [Mickey Kaus; more, Kevin Williamson]
Police in Santa Cruz, Calif. say the driver of a new Tesla had fallen asleep at the wheel last November when his car struck and killed a bicyclist. 63-year-old retired tech executive Navindra Kumar Jain told police that “new car smell” had caused him to nod off and that there were no other mechanical problems with the vehicle. A lawsuit filed by the victim’s family names both Tesla and Jain as defendants. [Santa Cruz Sentinel, San Jose Mercury-News, San Francisco Chronicle]
The capabilities of onboard GPS systems keep getting more impressive. And the product liability implications might nudge Detroit into using the information in ways unwelcome to customers, for fear of being blamed otherwise for crashes they might have prevented. [Volokh]
At least ten states have now adopted variations on the idea that motorists who unlawfully drive without insurance should give up at least some of their right to sue for pain and suffering in a later accident. Missouri has become the latest, its legislature overriding a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon (D). Organized insurers have backed the idea, which one recent study says can reduce the number of drivers on the road without insurance. It should be noted that trial lawyers’ collective interest in the issue is subject to some ambiguity: while they will recover less in a given lawsuit if their uninsured-motorist client cannot sue for pain and suffering, a rise in the share of drivers that are insured improves their chances of recovering funds in cases generally. [Insurance Journal, Billy Smith/Wolters Kluwer Compliance Corner, PCIAA, Susan Ladika/CarInsurance.com]
It’s behind a paywall, but the WSJ columnist looks into a question touched on repeatedly in this space and connects it to the unpredictability with which juries may credit expert testimony, as an Oklahoma jury recently did in Toyota litigation:
Toyota had been vigorously fighting hundreds of complaints that its cars are prone to unintended acceleration. Now it’s moving toward a global settlement as a consequence of a single Oklahoma lawsuit that appears to establish that Toyota can’t prevail if it can’t prove a negative—that its software didn’t go haywire in some untraceable and unreplicable manner. …
The Bookout jury was apparently impressed by the testimony of software expert Michael Barr. He said a single “bit flip” (the smallest instance of data corruption) could cause uncontrolled acceleration when the driver had been using cruise control, stopped using cruise control, then resumed using cruise control to let the car accelerate back to its selected speed. …
The connection to Ms. Bookout’s crash, which didn’t involve cruise control and took place on an exit ramp? None, except Mr. Barr claimed that “software failure is consistent with the description of the [Bookout] accident” and “more likely than not” a factor.
Jenkins notes, as have others, that if some mysterious and unreplicable bug is causing Toyotas to accelerate suddenly while disabling the brakes, it seems to differentially appear in cars being driven by elderly drivers, which are greatly overrepresented in the crash statistics.
More: Kyle Graham on whether vaccine liability limits make a plausible precedent for limits on liability for driverless cars.
Per Eugene Volokh‘s new article, a wide range of actors from landlords to employers to colleges to product manufacturers correctly see themselves as being at legal risk if they don’t surveill, probe, and share information about those they deal with:
Gathering or disclosing information about people’s backgrounds, tendencies, and actions is increasingly inexpensive, and increasingly effective at helping avoid, interrupt, or deter harm. …Failure to take those precautions thus becomes negligent. … Failure to provide camera surveillance is now a common claim in negligence cases.
An especially fertile source of such incentives is the duty (much expanded by modern developments in liability law) to take reasonable precautions against criminal acts by others. It will soon be feasible at low cost, if it is not already, for automakers to install electronic components in new cars that send a warning communication — to police monitors, for example — when a motorist tries to drive at very high speed. What will happen after automakers begin to be sued after accidents for not installing such components?