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Automotive & Tire Defects

We depend on our cars, trucks, and tires to perform safely all the time. When they don’t, our vehicles become deadly weapons – thousands of pounds of metal and gas, out of control, traveling at highway speeds. Because we depend on our cars, trucks, and tires so much every day and because the damage is so catastrophic when they fail, it is important that companies put the time, effort and care into designing and manufacturing our cars, trucks, and tires.  Some companies take this responsibility very seriously.  Unfortunately, some do not and thousands of people have been seriously injured or killed because of preventable defects in their vehicles and tires.

Most people are familiar with the problems with the Ford Pinto.  In the late 1960s, Ford designed the Pinto much faster than it typically would in an attempt to corner the market on sub-compact cars in the US.  The design had a serious flaw, however.  Because of the design of the gas tank, the Ford Pinto would typically explode if rear-ended at less-than-highway speeds.  Ford knew of the problem but performed one of the most famous cost-benefit analyses in U.S. history.  Ford determined that it would be cheaper to pay for the people killed or burned by the defect than it would be to fix the problem.  So Ford did not fix the problem and hundreds of people were killed and maimed as a result.  Ford was wrong about the cost-benefit, however, when juries began punishing Ford with civil verdicts.  Ford was also indicted for criminally negligent homicide, the first U.S. company ever to have that distinction, although it was acquitted.  The Ford Pinto cases were tragic but they show that people can affect real, positive change through personal injury lawsuits.  The Ford Pinto was taken out of production soon after the first verdict against Ford.  For more information about these landmark cases click on the link below.

Ford-Pinto Case Link.

Recently, there has been a rash of cases involving problems with spontaneous acceleration in some models of Toyota vehicles.  Some other common defects in vehicles include: seat belts that spool out too much and allow a person’s head to hit the “A” pillar, which can cause serious head injury or death, roof support that is inadequate to protect drivers and passengers in a rollover, defective brake fluid containers that can combust in medium to high impacts, and faulty airbags that fail to protect people in an accident.

Tires are also vitally important and, when they fail, have catastrophic results. The most typical type of failure in a tire is when the tread peels off at highway speeds. These deadly events can be caused by either design or manufacturing defects. Some tire companies omit safety devices in their tires that would prevent detreading because they would hurt profits (just like with the Ford Pinto). Sometimes the design of the tire is fine but it is not put together correctly. Tires are built in layers that all have to stick together. When the layers do not stick together, either because there is foreign matter in the rubber, the belts are not aligned properly, the tire was not cured correctly, or there was moisture trapped in one or more layers when the tire was cured, the tread can come off without any notice. When that happens the car is unbalanced and pulls to one side and is very difficult to control. The vehicle becomes a four thousand pound, out-of-control torpedo with people trapped inside. These cases happen more often in the Southern part of the U.S., where heat exacerbates the design and manufacturing defects. One of the most famous defective tire lawsuits was litigated in the Ford-Firestone cases click on the link below.

Ford/Firestone Fight Link.

Mr. Merman has litigated auto product defects cases his entire career. The Barralaga v. Cooper case is one example of an auto product defect case, which you can read about it here. Auto products cases are among the most complex personal injury cases for several reasons. First, the injuries are usually catastrophic – when a tire, airbag or seatbelt fails, the result is usually death or severe permanent injury. Auto products cases are also difficult because of the science involved that is specific to the type of defect.  For example, to litigate a tire case, the lawyer needs to understand how a tire is built and the chemistry and physics that work to hold the tire together and pull the tire apart.

Mr. Merman has handled cases involving: defective airbags, defective seatbelts, defective A and B pillar design (roof-crush cases), defective tires, faulty mufflers, and defective ignition switches.  In addition to single accident cases, which are the specialty of the Merman Law Firm, our founder has been asked on several occasions to lead national litigation involving defective auto products.