Are Manufacturers Doing Enough? Assessing the Vehicle Industry’s Response to Product Liability Risks in Illinois

The auto industry is facing increased scrutiny when it comes to product liability issues. High-profile cases of defective vehicles causing injuries and fatalities have shone a spotlight on safety practices and prompted questions about whether manufacturers are doing enough to protect consumers. This article examines some of the key product liability risks facing automakers in Illinois and analyzes the auto industry’s response to date.

The Rise in Product Liability Lawsuits

In recent years, Illinois has seen a marked increase in product liability lawsuits related to motor vehicles. Plaintiffs have targeted major automakers like GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and others, alleging their vehicles contained defects leading to catastrophic injuries and deaths. These lawsuits argue the manufacturers failed to adequately test their products, ignored safety concerns, or misled the public about potential risks.

Some of the alleged vehicle defects involved in these lawsuits include:

  • Faulty ignition switches causing loss of power and disabling airbags
  • Unintended acceleration issues leading to sudden surges in speed
  • Defective Takata airbags that can explode and shoot shrapnel during deployment
  • Weak points in vehicle frames prone to cracking or crumpling in collisions
  • Malfunctioning seatbelts that fail to properly restrain occupants
  • Sticky gas pedals that become stuck in the open position
  • Faulty door latches that can open during crashes, ejecting vehicle occupants
  • Steering system components that disconnect or break, leading to loss of control
  • Worn out suspension parts that fail, altering vehicle handling and stability

The cases have met with mixed success but have generally highlighted how seemingly minor defects can have disastrous consequences if vehicles are not rigorously designed and tested. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that automakers must be held accountable through the legal system to ensure maximum safety.

How Automakers Have Responded

Faced with this rising tide of litigation, automakers have scrambled to bolster their safety practices and limit future liability risks. Some of the steps taken include:

Increasing Testing and Validation

Automakers are expanding testing procedures to identify potential weaknesses and defects before new models reach consumers. This includes computer simulations, test track evaluations, and compressed life cycle testing to mimic years of real-world driving. The goal is to catch issues in the design phase rather than after widespread vehicle release. Companies are also keeping closer tabs on warranty data related to repairs, which can indicate emerging defect trends. In addition, some automakers are increasing collaboration with parts suppliers to ensure components are rigorously tested before being integrated into vehicles.

Issuing Recalls

When defects are detected in models already on the road, manufacturers have become quicker to issue recalls to address the problem. Wide-scale recalls allow automakers to make vehicle repairs before alleged defects lead to injuries. However, critics argue some companies are still slow to act even when they are aware of safety hazards. There are also concerns over low consumer compliance rates for some recalls. Automakers are exploring new methods like over-the-air software updates to improve completion rates for recalls related to digital systems.

Settling Claims

An increasing legal strategy is for automakers to settle injury claims related to known defects rather than fight them out in court through lengthy litigation. Mass settlements have resolved hundreds of cases stemming from specific vehicle flaws, providing compensation to consumers. Settlements may also include agreements to improve safety practices going forward. However, some argue the settlements allow automakers to avoid fully admitting fault or making meaningful changes.

Adding New Safety Features

Vehicle manufacturers are rapidly incorporating new driver assist and accident-avoidance technologies. These include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, backup cameras, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and more. The aim is to compensate for driver errors and help reduce crash rates. However, tech advances also introduce cybersecurity and functionality risks requiring rigorous testing. Manufacturers are hiring more software experts and conducting over-the-air updates to address emerging technology issues.

Industry Collaboration

Groups like the Auto Alliance provide a forum for automakers to jointly analyze safety issues across the industry and develop best practices. Collaborative efforts aim to improve overall vehicle safety beyond what any single manufacturer can achieve alone. But critics contend the groups are more focused on protecting reputations than implementing major reforms.

More to Be Done

While the above steps reflect positive changes in the auto industry’s approach to safety, experts argue there is still more manufacturers can and should do to limit product liability risks, including:

  • Adopt standardized industry-wide testing protocols overseen by third parties
  • Proactively report all potential defects rather than obscuring known issues
  • Share safety data and analyses between manufacturers to identify systemic issues
  • Design vehicles with safety as the overarching priority rather than as an add-on feature
  • Increase budgets for safety teams and research within auto companies
  • Implement redundant systems for critical components like brakes and steering
  • Expand virtual testing of parts and systems to complement physical tests
  • Use telematics systems to monitor vehicle performance and detect issues
  • Make vehicle software more secure to prevent hacking of safety-critical systems
  • Lobby for updated regulations and independent vehicle testing by NHTSA

The Bottom Line

Product liability remains a huge financial and reputational threat for automakers. While manufacturers have made strides in improving safety practices, the auto industry still faces criticism for not doing enough to protect consumers from defective vehicles. Continued close scrutiny of manufacturing processes and vigorous testing is required to reduce risks, along with a genuine commitment to safety as a core value. Consumers injured in auto accidents deserve vehicles designed to be as safe as realistically possible.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident caused by an alleged vehicle defect, contact the experienced Illinois product liability attorneys at Monge & Associates for a free consultation. We have offices in 32 locations across 19 states, including Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi, and know exactly what it takes to win you the compensation you deserve.  We will thoroughly investigate your accident and alleged vehicle defects. If we find evidence of negligence by the automaker, we’ll aggressively pursue compensation through settlements or litigation.

Don’t wait; contact us today for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597.