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When SUVs, pickups hit cars, legal dent may be big
By DANNY HAKIM and NORM ALSTER
New York Times
Posted: May 29, 2004

Fort Worth, Texas - Just before dark on Halloween night in 2002, Dereck Lopez turned her red Chevrolet Cavalier onto Hemphill St., a long road that runs from downtown Fort Worth to the outskirts of the city. Lopez, 18, was heading to her brother's house to take her nieces trick-or-treating.

That Halloween night, two weeks after she received her U.S. citizenship, a drunken driver in a 1992 Chevrolet Silverado, a large pickup, ran a red light and plowed into the side of her 1998 Cavalier.

The Silverado, weighing at least 4,000 pounds and specially equipped with a rigid steel grille guard, cratered the left side of the 2,600-pound Cavalier, pushing it down the street and up onto the sidewalk. The front end of the pickup had skipped over the Cavalier's door sill - a part of the car designed to absorb energy in side impacts - and smashed into the driver's-side window, fracturing Lopez's skull. She died six days later.

Similar tragedies happen on American roads every day. But this one had an unusual twist that, some legal experts say, presages a costly new legal front for automakers.

The Lopez family is suing General Motors on the grounds that it made a car it knew was not safe enough to survive collisions with its other products, namely its large pickups and sport utility vehicles. The heart of the family's argument is that the company has been slow to equip vehicles with side air bags that protect people's heads.

Brenda Rios, a spokeswoman for GM, said her company complied with the rules and should not be held responsible if big vehicles sometimes collide with small ones, creating what people in the industry call "compatibility" issues. "Consumers demand different types of vehicles, big and small, to meet their needs, and GM tries to provide vehicles that do that," she said. "All of our vehicles meet or exceed federal safety standards. GM is not aware of a single court that has recognized 'incompatibility' as a valid basis for a lawsuit against an auto manufacturer."


Some of the new suits go after the maker of the passenger car, arguing that the industry did not adequately design cars to stand up to SUVs and pickups. Others go after the maker of the SUV or truck that hit the car, arguing that the vehicles were knowingly designed in a way that was needlessly unsafe.

The problem has worsened as SUVs have supplanted station wagons and as large pickups are increasingly marketed as family vehicles. The risk is particularly high in side impacts, in which a car's occupant is almost three times more likely to die if hit by an SUV instead of a car, and five times more likely if hit by a pickup, according to federal crash statistics. When an SUV or a truck hits a car in the side, the driver of the car is nearly 29 times more likely to die than the driver of the light truck, the figures show.

Since 1980, SUVs and other trucks have grown from one-fifth to more than half of all sales of passenger automobiles. The industry denied for years that this posed a safety problem, but last year, under pressure from federal regulators, 15 automakers from four nations agreed to work jointly to address the compatibility issue.

"It's new territory," said Tab Turner, one of the most active lawyers to bring rollover suits against automakers; he has not brought any compatibility suits. "I think they're vulnerable," he said of automakers, adding, "It opens up a whole different aspect of litigation when you have the potential for occupants not in your car bringing litigation."
One legal barrier

One hurdle for plaintiffs is the recent adoption in many states of the product liability principle of "reasonable alternative design." Under this principle, it is not enough to prove that a product is destructive, said Robert L. Rabin, a law professor at Stanford.

"In order to succeed," he said, "the plaintiff has to show there's a reasonable design alternative for this type of product."

But automakers' recent joint agreement to work on making light-duty trucks less harmful to passenger cars may have made it easier for crash victims to sue. That is because the agreement indicated that such alternative designs were already in place on some vehicles, but not others.

Full Article Here



 

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...because everyone knows that GM built the larger vehicles to engage in open demolition derbies on city streets. :rolleyes: Just another family trying to dig into the deep pockets of an auto manufacturer based solely on the advice of their attorney.

The problem has worsened as SUVs have supplanted station wagons and as large pickups are increasingly marketed as family vehicles. The risk is particularly high in side impacts, in which a car's occupant is almost three times more likely to die if hit by an SUV instead of a car, and five times more likely if hit by a pickup, according to federal crash statistics. When an SUV or a truck hits a car in the side, the driver of the car is nearly 29 times more likely to die than the driver of the light truck, the figures show.
Now this is a "duh" statement if I've ever heard one. I'm not a fan of SUV's at all, but I find this to be a rediculous basis for a case. If manufacturers are meeting or exceeding the Federal safety requirements then I don't see how any lawsuit could make it to court with such claims. What they should be doing is pressuring the government to raise the standards, which they have already done recently with consideration to the sport utility class.

Please people remember that in most cases it's the fault of the driver that hit you, not the car they were driving.
 

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They're attacking this from the wrong angle. The car isn't inherently unsafe, nor is the SUV. The driver of the SUV was drunk, so you're better off suing whoever manufactured the alcoholic product(s) he consumed. I mean, hey, you can sue the gun manufacturer when you shoot your **** off because you didn't safety the gun in the holster. So why not?

I think federal standards for 2007 (the next big improvement) take SUV and pickup collisions into consideration for smaller cars. However, there is only so much you can do to protect a compact car from a 2-ton wall of steel being driven by an idiot before you make that vehicle too big and heavy to be called a compact car anymore.
 

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If SUVs have gone from 10% of the cars on the road to 50% as the articles states, then the chances of a big car - little car accident have greatly been reduced.
Put more people into large cars, and the numbers will go down even more.
 

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The solution is simple, really. Make ground clearance a standard. This means that sedans may have to ride slightly higher, and SUV's lower, but as long as they meet in a collision, then everybody's happy...right? I don't understand why someone ought to be able to drive a vehicle designated as "Off-road" on road. :rolleyes:
 

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If the requirement for owning an SUV was that you had to actually need it for something other than transportation then few would qualify to own one. Who knows if the drunk driver pulled tree stumps and had to off-road on the weekend to see his great-grandmother who lived on a remote hill side? Too many times an SUV is nothing but a cultural and status symbol for their drivers. How can we blame them if that’s the way SUVs are marketed so that’s the way people think after millions of dollars spent to get them to believe it?
 

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I love how the kneejerk reaction is for people to demonize SUV's. Just take a look at this thread and see how people have turned this into a conversation about SUV's. It was a PICKUP that hit the car, not an SUV. Pickups have been around forever and are just as heavy, but oh gosh, it's the SUV's that are turning our highways into a killing field.

And this is one of the most asinine lawsuits I've ever heard. No auto maker would ever be safe, because as soon as any safety device was developed, if they didn't immediately put in on every one of their vehicles, they'd be liable. Just ridiculous.

Set the federal standards where you want them, test them, and if they pass, they're good. Otherwise the courts are setting retroactive safety standards.
 

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Well lets see... most people seem to like to classify any and all SUV's as trucks, and most of the full sized ones are pickups with glorified canopes.... soooooooo
 

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The article is about SUVs and Pickups. I think most people are saying SUVs for short, instead of saying SUVs and Pickups each time.

I don't think any of the repliers are demonizing SUVs any more than pickups.
 

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Originally posted by Chops@May 31 2004, 12:51 AM
Well lets see... most people seem to like to classify any and all SUV's as trucks, and most of the full sized ones are pickups with glorified canopes.... soooooooo
Soooooooo, what is your point? SUV's (not all of them in my book, but most) are a subclass of trucks, just like vans and pickups are subclasses of trucks. Why are SUV's singled out when the physics works the same way for pickups and vans?

Why not just say "trucks"? It would be a lot more accurate.
 

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Originally posted by Dumb_Ass_2003@May 30 2004, 11:50 PM
Here's an idea......

Educate people!

-Defensive Driving
-Responsible Drinking

It's as simple as that.
Ah, but this is difficult in a land of people with an external locus of control: "It's not my fault! The other guy causes all the problems."

Thankfully (ahem), we have trial lawyers who generously give of their time and effort in the name of public safety and torte reform.
 

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Originally posted by Dodge Drivin' Paul@May 30 2004, 06:28 PM
The solution is simple, really. Make ground clearance a standard. This means that sedans may have to ride slightly higher, and SUV's lower, but as long as they meet in a collision, then everybody's happy...right? I don't understand why someone ought to be able to drive a vehicle designated as "Off-road" on road. :rolleyes:
That would be easy to do, perticularly in the newer expensive trucks and SUV's with air suspension. SOme of them allready lower at speed, but when you are on the road, you don't need much clearence anyway. SO why now make them automaticly lower even more? I'm sure it wouldn't be that much more expensive.
 

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What a wonderful argument--- no one needs an SUV. What sorts of things do Americans have that they don't need? McDonalds, more than 1 TV, a computer faster than a 486, sports cars, houses bigger than 200 square foot per person, et cetera et cetera. This is America you commies! Of course we have things we don't need!! That's the point! If we only had things we needed we'd have bread, water, and air. And that would suck.

Clearly it's the drunk driver's fault. End of liability. What is so hard to understand about that?
 

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No one has mentioned the brushguard on the truck. That alone made a huge difference by not allowing the trucks crumple zones to work. It probably also assisted in the lift of the front end that caused the truck to miss the door to begin with.
 

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How about championing tougher laws 4 drunken driving instead of making SUV's and P-up's the spawn of Satan??.
 

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Originally posted by surferdude00711@May 31 2004, 03:10 PM
how about a feature in a car so that it shuts down if u are drunk? Totally unpratical but purposeful if you think about it...
Honda :plasma:
They tried to pass a law like that before. If that ever happens, I'll be moving to Canada immediately. It's simply not going to work, and I'll be damned if such a device is ever installed on any car I own. I'm smart enough not to drive while intoxicated, so don't punish me for the stupidity of others.
 
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