Does a vehicle manufacturer bear responsibility for death and injury caused by a safety defect in their product?

After writing a post yesterday,  http://annaleahmary.com/2015/07/who-should-bear-the-responsibility-for-deaths-injuries-due-to-known-safety-defects/,  I have been wrestling with this question:

Does a vehicle manufacturer bear responsibility for death and injury caused by a safety defect in their product:

  • ever?
  • and, especially do they do so when it is publicly known (in the engineering realm) that there is a solution to the problem which could — if implemented — prevent death and horrific injury?

Or, are they protected by following the letter of the law — which likewise might have been negligent to require the best possible protection?

Furthermore, if they do bear responsibility, then what price should they pay for negligence to act on that knowledge in a timely fashion?

I have been trying to look at it every which way and not merely as the mother of two daughters, AnnaLeah (forever 17) and Mary (forever 13), who happened to get killed by a truck underride crash in which the underride guard met current federal standards, and possibly even the Canadian standards, but did not make use of safer known technology and did not withstand the crash.

Before & After PhotosI am plagued by so many questions:

  • Did the manufacturer’s act of omission contribute to Mary’s and AnnaLeah’s deaths? (omission: http://tinyurl.com/o2z6meb )
  • If so, why are they not being held responsible for such a heinous action? (heinous: http://tinyurl.com/ncak6o2 )
  • What consequences should they pay for their negligence?
  • Can it be considered criminal negligence? (criminal: http://tinyurl.com/p5syqnl )
  • Can a charge of manslaughter be applied? (manslaughter: http://tinyurl.com/nl6ms8l )
  • Is the manufacturer excused from responsibility for their deaths because it was not technically illegal (they abided by the letter of the law)?
  • If current and future research shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that safer underride prevention systems can, in fact, be put in place on trucks, can truck manufacturers be freed from responsibility to implement such technology due to supposed “unreasonable” costs? (A frequent reason for less-than-adequate rules to be issued — if issued at all.)
  • Do informed regulators who do not write into law the safest possible technology bear any responsibility?
  • Do informed truck purchasers who do not buy trucks with the safest possible technology (even if not required by law) bear responsibility?
  • I even have to ask myself if I am taking the chance of sabotaging our goal of seeking stronger federal standards by raising these controversial, potentially-inflammatory questions.

So you see, I am not struggling with easy questions. But you have to admit, don’t you, that they are questions with life & death implications.

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This question of manufacturer criminal liability is addressed in a New York Times editorial today (July 21, 2015):

“The Senate bill also falls well short of addressing important issues raised by recent scandals involving defects in General Motors’ ignition switches and Takata airbags. While it would raise the maximum fine that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can levy against automakers that do not promptly disclose defects to $70 million from $35 million, that increase is a pittance for companies that make billions in profits. And by not proposing criminal liability for executives who knowingly hide the life-threatening dangers of their products, the bill simply sidesteps the issue of individual accountability.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/opinion/a-senate-bill-that-makes-roads-and-railroads-less-safe.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=1

From my morning reading: “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The Law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” Psalm 37:30-31

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