Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., a research firm that specializes in motor vehicle issues and safety, recently published a comprehensive report entitled “Public Safety at Risk: Bankruptcies Leave Legacy of Defects, Injuries and Death.” The report presents a concise, statistically supported argument about the dangers of allowing Chrysler and General Motors to shed all liability claims as part of their bankruptcy and restructuring.
The bankruptcy terms will excuse the car manufacturers from being held accountable for defective and dangerous automobiles and components that have already injured and killed thousands of people and threaten to injure and kill thousands more.
Studying numbers from the Early Warning Reporting (EWR) data, which automakers must file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, SRS found that Chrysler was held liable for 3,497 fatalities and injuries from third quarter 2003 to first quarter 2008 – an annual average of 636.
However, the number of people killed and injured in General Motors, represented by claims filed against the manufacturer, was disproportionately higher: 15,284 individual fatalities and injuries, or an average of 2,779 casualties per year.
SRS expects to see about 3,400 new casualties each year for the next couple of years occurring in Chrysler and GM cars sold pre-bankruptcy.
As older cars stay on the road longer thanks to the economy, thousands more people will likely be killed or injured by these same known auto defects. Those future victims, unfortunately, will have no legal recourse.
The bankruptcies almost guarantee that hundreds of people injured by defective Chrysler and GM vehicles will be unable to pay their medical bills or receive adequate treatment for themselves or their families.
However, the bankruptcy arrangements have even more serious consequences for public safety. According to the SRS report, “neither General Motors nor Chrysler will have the data or the incentive to correct defects that emerge post-bankruptcy.”
“Automakers use death and injury claim trends to identify defects, as does NHTSA, which collects this information. If people can not recover for the human and property damage caused by GM or Chrysler vehicles, these claims will not be filed,” the report explains.
Automakers will be greatly ineffective in finding and correcting all sorts of safety and quality issues as a result of the “lost” claims. SRS predicts that the number of recalls will decrease and thus remedies for the defects will not be found.
From 2004 to 2008, Chrysler and GM combined issued nearly 250 recalls affecting more than 30 million vehicles. Those recalls included hazards such as faulty accelerator pedals that stuck when depressed instead of returning to idle, and control ball joints that resulted in loss of steering.
Injury and death claims were the only way these problems came to light, spurring recalls that undoubtedly saved many lives.
“If death and injury claims data do not reflect the status of real world problems on the road, safety is compromised,” SPS explains.
“And, if GM and Chrysler no longer bear the liability for uncorrected defects, the automaker has few motivations to fix the pre-bankruptcy problems.”