In recent months, observant people will have noticed that there have been quite a few automobile recall announcements. The Takata explosive airbag is a dangerous, recent example, while Volkswagen’s deception about its eco-friendly diesel engines is a less risky, but more anti-consumer incident that shows deliberate, immoral action on the part of a big business.
But why do these things happen? In both cases, a serious problem has come to light, and as a result, the company responsible has to own up to it, often with severe financial repercussions, so why bother creating a situation that would require a recall in the first place?
In most cases, such as the Takata airbags problem, or one of the great automobile recalls of the 20th century, the 1978 Ford Pinto, there is normally no malice involved in the technical problem. The design of a particular component may appear sound on paper, and may even appear so in the prototyping stage. But once a car goes into mass manufacturing, problems can arise either in the way the car was manufactured, or unforeseen complications arise as a result of real world situations that simulations and testing didn’t account for.
In the case of the Ford Pinto during the late 1970s, the problem with the car was that rear end collisions could cause the fuel tank to leak, thanks to its unique placement in the car’s design. For the problems surrounding the potentially explosive behavior of safety airbags manufactured by Takata, there are actually a suite of factors that may cause the problem, such as years of exposure to heat and humidity, or even poor quality control at the manufacturing plants due to negligence as the product comes off the line.
In both of these cases, the problems inherent to the product may not be known for some time. However, and this is the most important part, the car manufacturer itself will usually be the first to know when the problem arises.
As cars go into general use with the public, the car manufacturers will be notified through various channels about what is happening with the maintenance of their car. This is to be expected, since it is the manufacturer that is providing the replacement parts to car repair facilities around the world.
So, for example, in the 1970s, Ford would have had some early hints that there were problems with their fuel tank as they received more information pointing out that rear end collisions were resulting in a consistent, higher than normal percentage of fuel tank repairs. The same would likely apply to the Takata airbag problem, except that in this case there are also claims that Takata discovered the problem very early on, but then took steps to hide their knowledge until it came to light through more active public investigation.
In both cases—and many others where recalls occur—the manufacturer is one of the first to know about the problem. Where things begin to differ is in how the manufacturer then decides to behave based on this knowledge. This is usually where greed—or in some cases simple business logic—can be greater motivators than conscience.
Cost Versus Casualty
In the case of the Ford Pinto in 1978, we have one of the most famous cases of cold, emotionless business sense being prioritized over ethics. A famous document known as the “Ford Pinto Memo” was eventually discovered during the investigation into the Pinto manufacturing defect. The memo was actually a cost-benefit analysis wherein Ford’s own financial staff calculated how much it would cost to enact a recall and repair, versus how much money would be spent on court settlements for death or injury, and the numerical conclusion was that it would actually be cheaper for Ford to simply accept deaths and injuries related to their product, and pay the aggrieved parties.
In the case of Takata, many car manufacturers contracted the safety airbag maker, and so the problem is not specific to one car, but any model that used a Takata airbar. In this case, the cost of a recall is enormous, not just financially damaging, but potentially severe enough to deal a mortal blow to Takata and signal the end of the company.
In cases like these, what is the right thing to do is often ignored in favor of what is the most cost effective thing to do. And that is why personal injury lawyers like the ones here at allinjurieslawfirm.com are here to make sure you get the justice you deserve when companies think their bottom line is more important than your safety.