Auto manufacturers in the US have a history of releasing vehicles with parts that cause catastrophic or fatal injuries. In some cases, manufacturers even knew about the defects and chose to release the vehicles anyways. The Ford Pinto and GM’s ignition switch are examples of manufacturers knowingly releasing vehicles with defective auto parts.
Ford developed the Pinto in the late 1960s to compete with Japanese automakers that had cornered the small-vehicle market. The goal was to release the Pinto within 25 months. At some point during those 25 months, engineers noticed a critical safety flaw with the vehicle’s fuel tank design. Low-speed rear-end crash testing revealed the tanks could rupture and spill fuel underneath the vehicle.
Ford knew of these risks but released the Pinto on schedule anyway. During the discovery phase of lawsuits filed against Ford, it became apparent why the auto manufacturer decided to release the Pinto despite the risk to consumers.
Ford estimated it would cost $113 million to fix the fuel tanks for each vehicle, and $49 million to settle personal injury claims. Executives decided it would be less expensive to settle with consumers injured by the defective Pinto.
General Motors’ ignition switch is another example of an automaker knowingly releasing vehicles with dangerous defects. The ignition switch defect would cause keys to unexpectedly turn off vehicles in motion. Between 2001 and 2004, GM engineers testing the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt became aware of the defect. One year later, GM decided not to fix the defect because it was too costly. Sound familiar?
How Are Consumers Harmed by Defective Auto Parts?
The human cost of the ignition switch and Pinto were catastrophic. An estimated 27 to 180 people died from fires caused by the Pinto’s faulty fuel tanks. GM’s ignition switch caused an estimated 124 deaths. Many victims also suffered catastrophic injuries from these defective auto parts. A plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Ford suffered disfiguring burns. More than 230 people suffered catastrophic injuries in accidents involving GM’s ignition switch.
Injuries and deaths caused by these products were preventable. Both auto manufacturers placed a greater importance on cost efficiency than the safety of consumers. If lawsuits were not filed against Ford and GM, the public may have never discovered that both companies knew of these defects and still released the vehicle.
In cases like these, filing a personal injury lawsuit against a manufacturer may improve public safety.