Scientific Facts Don't Stop Toyota LawsuitsBy AutoObserver Staff April 6, 2011
Les Jackson, an automotive journalist, has consulted on over 130 automotive-related legal cases. His educational background in mechanical engineering and laser physics has enabled him to stay abreast of all aspects of automotive technology for over 40 years. Mr. Jackson will make a presentation about unintended acceleration at the upcoming Edmunds' Safety Conference: Truly Safe? Debunking Myths and Crafting Effective Policies for Car Safety.
Mark Twain said, If there were only one lawyer in a small town he would starve. If there were two lawyers they would prosper. There are nearly two million licensed attorneys in the US and the number grows by about 25,000 each year, roughly the same as the US engineer population. Contrast these numbers with other First-world countries and you find a vastly different ratio of lawyers to engineers, closer to 1:10. This is an appalling statistic.
Over the past 20 years our society has been barraged with TV commercials for law firms promising big financial rewards for injury, death, disease, damages, etc. We are known as the most litigious society on the face of the earth and the legal business is growing to meet the something-for-nothing mentality of the American population. It's no surprise, therefore, that thousands of sudden acceleration lawsuits against Toyota are being pursued in spite of universal findings against electronic causes.
I've been an expert witness in over 130 automotive cases and have observed the personal and legal manipulations engaged by plaintiffs and defense teams. One side will always attempt to stack the deck with technical reasons for receiving a positive judgment and the other side will use every method to obscure, confuse, defame or otherwise create doubt on the part of the judge or jury. In almost every case on which I consulted neither side was satisfied with the results.
To be fair, lawyers are in practice to provide counsel to those who wish to pursue some complaint through the legal system. Some have noble ambitions and try to be as forthright as possible in their daily activities. Others are simply business persons who want to use the system to make as much money as possible.
The same goes for the general population, probably in the same numbers. I personally found that for every case I accepted as an expert witness there were two or three that had no merit whatsover. I quickly developed an eye for those who wanted to file lawsuits for hidden reasons such as getting out of payments, dislike of a particular model, resentment against the dealer, etc. To date I've been contacted by three Toyota owners who claimed sudden acceleration and, after thoroughly investigating their vehicles, I've refused the cases.
Two were easily explainable (floor mats, debris on the floor) and one was patently ridiculous: The car had a manual transmission and the owner claimed he couldn't stop it when the engine ran away. The fact that the owner claimed that the neither the clutch nor the brakes worked is beyond all belief. The odds of both the brake system and a hydraulic clutch (simple master/slave cylinder system) failing simultaneously are astronomic. Even if both had failed it's a simple matter to push the shifter out of gear, not to mention turning off the ignition.
Sadly, attorneys for the Toyota plaintiffs will rack up big fees and choke the legal system with these cases for years to come. They will (easily, in many cases) confuse the juries into believing fantastic and unprovable theories such as tin whiskers, cell phone disruption and sun spots. They will win settlements in many of these cases because they know how lacking in curiosity and engineering expertise the American public is. They will win settlements because they can...
There are undoubtedly a small number of cases for which there is no explanation, in which something went wrong and resulted in fear or injury or even death. These will be completely overshadowed by the hundreds or thousands of cases that shouldn't have been pursued in the first place. Our country's lawyers have proven to be among our most clever citizens; what a shame they don't put that intelligence to use fostering a spirit of resolving issues instead of profiting from them.