No year could possibly top 2015 for its shocking news about vehicle fraud. Repeated concealments of deadly ignition switches, airbags, and guard rails showed the world’s auto manufacturers obsessive fixation on profits at the expense of its customers’ safety. And that’s ignoring Volkswagon’s deceptive manipulation of emissions data and other fiascoes.
Here are the top three worst defective products scandals of 2015.
1. G.M. Ignition Switch Defect
Three years ago, the attorney for a victim’s parents hired an engineer to figure out why a young woman had died in a bizarre accident while driving a G.M. vehicle. The engineer discovered an ignition switch flaw GM had known about since 2000 that ignited the biggest auto recall in history.
The giant automaker not only knew about the defective ignition switch but took great pains to cover up the problem. Yet G.M. continued to deny its responsibility for more than 100 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries.
The victims already faced an uphill battle to receive verdicts and settlements they deserved. Then, in a huge blow to victims and their families, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in April that General Motors was shielded from lawsuits involving accidents that occurred before the corporation was declared bankrupt in 2009.
The injustice of this decision was obvious. The reason victims were not able to act sooner was because of G.M.’s concealment of the facts. Many of the fatal crashes occurred after G.M. executives and engineers were well aware of the defect.
Then, in another blow, criminal charges were dropped against the corporation in a deferred prosecution deal.
Fortunately, in the final days of 2015, a federal judge rejected G.M.’s motion to dismiss its first ignition switch trial, which is scheduled later this year. But yesterday, GM promoted Mary Barra, its president who was at the center of its fraud, to CEO as a thank you gift.
2. Takata Airbag Defect
Takata came up with what it thought was a good money-saving measure back in 2000. To save $2.00 per unit, the company changed the propellant it used. However the company quickly discovered that in high humidity — like here in Texas — the canisters had a tendency to explode and send sharp metal shrapnel flying into the car’s interior and into the occupants.
Undeterred, Takata continued to install the defective airbags for 15 more years and manipulated its data until its rampant fraud was finally detected. Putting profit over safety cost the lives of at least eight people and injured 100+ more. Over 20 million cars have already been recalled and millions more will have to be. Honda, which was Takata’s main buyer, knew about this problem at least five years ago and did nothing. The New York Times wrote about this scandal again today.
3. Trinity Guardrail
Guardrails are supposed to save lives. The idea is that they absorb the force of the accident. But, when Trinity Industries decided to shave off $2 per unit by shaving off an inch of steel, the guardrail instead acted as a spear that pierced the car that ran into it. This lifesaving device became a horrific deadly weapon that left the motorists who survived with severe injuries, including amputated legs.
Frighteningly, the deadly condition on our nation’s highways might never had been discovered had Trinity not sued one of its competitors. During litigation preparations, the plaintiff discovered the flawed guardrail design change that was never reported to Federal Highway Administration (FHA) as required by law.
The whistleblower and government will split the $525 million verdict against Trinity for its guardrail flaw. However, these dangerous guardrails remain on many of our roads.
We urge automakers to make 2016 the year that drivers can feel safe on the roads. And if they fail at that, urge our lawmakers to hold these reckless corporations accountable.