By NIALL A. PAUL, NATHAN B. ATKINSON, ADAM J. LEVITT, TIMOTHY C. BAILEY, MARK A. DiCELLO and STEPHEN M. GORNY
On Aug. 2, the West Virginia Record’s editors expressed their views of a lawsuit involving Ford vehicles lacking important life-saving safety features that are included in other manufacturers’ vehicles. The timing of the editorial is interesting.
No mention is made of the fact that the day before the Record published its “story,” Ford paid the maximum penalty ($17.35 million) to settle government allegations that Ford was slow to recall nearly a half-million SUVs that experience a type of sudden unintended acceleration event. As part of its “slow recall,” Ford not only refused to inform its customers of the deadly problems that existed in its vehicles, but actually delayed fixing the problem. Our case is about protecting consumers and trying to keep Ford from doing the same thing again.
It is unclear whether the editors actually read any of the complaints in preparing their article for publication. The article fails to point out that beginning in 2005, Ford equipped its European models with the exact same life-saving fail-safe that it refused to include in the Ford vehicles that are at issue in the Belville, Smith, and Brandon cases.
Instead of mentioning these issues, the editors chose instead to trivialize a deadly safety defect they clearly do not understand, comparing it to a car missing a Barry Manilow CD. Had they opted to ask someone to explain the lawsuit, we would have been happy to do so.
As noted in the Complaints, consumers and everyone on the road should be concerned. Ford vehicles manufactured between 2002 and 2010 experienced, and continue to experience, unintended acceleration events similar to those at issue in a recently settled lawsuit against Toyota. The Complaints filed in federal district court make clear that these sudden unintended acceleration events occur because the Ford vehicles use a computer to control the vehicle’s throttle.
As with anything operated by a computer, things can go awry, and engineers have long known they have to plan for and create fail-safes to cure, the problems that are destined to occur with complicated electronics. Engineers also understand that if it is your video game that suddenly has a mind of its own, no one actually dies. But if the computer controlling the throttle on the family car sends a signal opening your throttle while on your way to school, that is a very real problem with life-altering and life-ending consequences for the individuals in the vehicle and anyone they may encounter.
So what did other automakers do about the fact that the computers in their vehicles could hijack the driver's control of the throttle? Again, had the editors read our Complaints, they would know other manufacturers have incorporated various fail-safe mechanisms in their cars' designs.
These fail-safes include a brake over accelerator system that ensures that no matter what the gas pedal wants to do, once you hit the brake, the brake wins. This is the same life-saving brake over accelerator system that the editors cutely compared to an “infinite capacity gas tank.” The analogy fails.
We, along with our clients, will continue to seek to hold Ford accountable and take steps to protect the American public. American customers who bought Ford vehicles between 2002 and 2010 deserve the same safety devices Ford provided to its European customers beginning in 2005 and that other manufacturers provide to their consumers domestically. The inclusion of devices in Ford vehicles to improve driver safety when unintended acceleration problems occur is little more than common sense. The editors and readers should share that concern – particularly since all of us encounter these Ford vehicles every day on the road.
Paul, Atkinson, Levitt, Bailey, DiCello and Gorny are the plaintiffs attorneys in three class action lawsuits filed this year against Ford in federal court in Huntington.