shattered windshieldFrom shredding tires to exploding airbags, from sudden, uncontrollable acceleration to faulty ignition switches, the history of automakers and parts manufacturers is rife with instances of corporate greed putting dollars over lives.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident * and a faulty part may have been the cause, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Ask questions until you’re confident the attorney is capable of suing large corporate defendants and negotiating with them.

Automakers have always tried to avoid being held accountable for their design and manufacturing mistakes. Around 1909, a stonecutter was injured when the wooden wheel of his car collapsed. Buick tried to argue it couldn’t be held responsible, though it could easily have discovered the defect had it inspected the wheel, which was made elsewhere.

Donald MacPherson’s bold lawsuit against Buick changed who could be held liable for defects in American law: Not just a seller, but a manufacturer. And it began the long march of personal injury lawsuits that combined have served to make cars safer, despite the continuing pattern of automakers using cheaper but faulty parts, hiding known dangers from consumers and government oversight agencies, and continuing to make and sell dangerous cars.

While the fire-prone Ford Pinto of the 1970s may be fading into memory, the defective Takata airbag debacle is fresh in the minds of many, not only because of the tragic deaths but also because of the 125 million vehicles worldwide that have been or are expected to be recalled.

Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have repeatedly been a catalyst for greater safety in cars.

Here are a few examples:

  • When the 1972 Ford Pinto Richard Grimshaw was riding in stalled in the center lane of a freeway and was struck from behind at 30-50 mph, starting a fuel tank fire, Grimshaw was badly burned. A jury awarded $127.8 million in damages; the court later reduced the damages to $3.5 million. The initial jury award may have been the largest ever for a product liability or personal injury case. Four months later, and only with a formal recall order by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) looming, Ford issued a voluntary recall to fix the problems with its fuel tank.


  • Plaintiff’s attorneys began pursuing claims against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Tires after a 1992 crash in Los Angeles that killed two people. By 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone Tires had tracked 193 personal injury claims and was a defendant in 66 lawsuits, all revolving around Firestone tires that had treads that separated, often on Ford Explorers that frequently then rolled over. After one plaintiff’s attorney tipped off a Texas TV news station about the high number of shredding tire cases he was hearing about, the news went viral. NHTSA was flooded with complaints that not only prompted an investigation leading to the largest tire recall in history, but also a new federal law (the TREAD Act) requiring automakers to report safety recalls in other countries and any injuries or deaths involving their vehicles, along with supporting data.


  • When their daughter was killed in the crash of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, Ken and Beth Melton hired a personal injury lawyer. Experts hired by the attorney concluded that the daughter’s car ignition had switched from the “on” position to the “accessory” position – shutting off the engine and causing an immediate loss of power steering and brakes, as well as rendering the airbags inoperable. The cause was a small part in the ignition switch, and GM had chosen to use a part that was just 1.6mm too short to work effectively. A longer part that cost an additional 57 cents could have fixed the problem. Because of the Meltons’ lawsuit, internal GM documents came to light and recalls of millions of vehicles began. Congress initiated investigations into GM.


  • In 2009, news media replayed a tragic 911 call that captured the screams of a California Highway Patrol officer’s family as their car accelerated to 125 mph and flew over an embankment, killing the entire family. The cause was the sudden, uncontrollable acceleration in the Toyota they were driving. While injuries and deaths caused by the defective Toyota accelerators began to accumulate starting in 1992, it took a barrage of successful lawsuits to force Toyota to admit it had lied to the public about the cause of the sudden uncontrollable acceleration. Ultimately, Toyota was forced to issue massive recalls and was fined $1.2 billion by the Department of Justice.


  • Recently graduated from high school, Ashley Parham bled to death after a low-speed collision caused her air bag to deploy in 2009. The metal canister of the air bag inflator exploded and shrapnel severed her carotid artery. Other personal injury and wrongful death claims involving Takata airbags followed. While Takata and automakers settled the wrongful death and personal injury claims filed over the defective air bag inflator, the claims forced awareness of the defect. Takata and vehicle manufacturers hid the problem from the public and NHTSA as long as possible. In the end, Takata faced criminal charges, huge fines and the largest auto part safety recall in history. Recalls are still ongoing.


The actions brought by people who have been hurt by defective auto parts or by the loved ones of those killed force automakers to pay for their mistakes. More crucially, lawsuits often are how a defect becomes known to the public and even to the government agencies that are charged with oversight of auto manufacturers, such as NHTSA.

Despite NHTSA’s strict set of safety standards and stronger reporting rules under the TREAD act, government regulations and oversight haven’t proven to be totally effective on their own at curbing dangerous defects in vehicles. Personal injury lawsuits will, unfortunately, continue to be necessary to hold vehicle manufacturers accountable for negligence.

Throughout our automotive history, drivers and passengers have been killed and suffered life-altering injuries because of manufacturing defects about which, as it is all too often later proven, automakers and parts manufacturers were fully aware. When these defects have been successfully hidden from the public and government regulators, consumers will continue to find their best protection comes from personal injury lawsuits that allow individuals to address the harm done to them and ultimately compel the changes that promote safety.

People who suffer personal injury or lose a family member through someone else’s negligence turn to Suk Law Firm, which has a proven track record for achieving optimum recoveries. Suk Law Firm provides compassionate and respectful representation and has recovered more than $125 million for victims. We are ready to assist you.

Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.


Car Safety Innovations Illustration

Copyright © 2017 American Association for Justice. Reproduction of any kind is prohibited. For more information, please contact AAJ Research at research@justice.org or (800) 424-2725 or (202)965-3500, ext. 2811. Reprinted with Permission.

*A note about language:

Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”