According to the Washington Post, one in seven of cars on U.S. roads is subject to some form of recall. With the Takata airbag recall affecting BMW, Dodge, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and other brands, many cars on the road are simply not safe to drive. Not all drivers may be aware that their cars are unsafe. While the companies are required to contact owners, not all owners get the recall letters and when they do read the letters, the wording tends to downplay the seriousness of the issue.
Many of the companies who recalled their vehicles had been aware of the airbag problem long before the recall was officially announced. Recalls are costly and can damage a company’s reputation, so companies are often reluctant to issue them. While the government is required to use a metric called the “Value of Statistical Life” when making far-ranging decisions, corporate decision-making may involve varied metrics, with often the bottom line taking precedence over other considerations. The “Value of Statistical Life” takes into account the amount of money a person can contribute economically in a lifetime and also factors in other quality of life considerations. Essentially, governments use this value to determine how much money they are willing to pay in order to reduce the number of fatalities by one person.
According to the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, corporate decisions don’t always use rigorous risk evaluation techniques. In many cases, companies will sometimes ignore safety concerns. The researchers found that when car companies were confronted with their vehicles’ safety records, juries were more likely to award victims of personal injury or wrongful death larger awards in damages as a result of corporate culture that puts safety second to the bottom line. Personal injury lawyers have assisted victims in building a strong case in court when a defective product resulted in accident or injury.
The Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis suggested that companies use the “Value of Statistical Life” when making decisions based on risk. The researchers suggested that companies who use this standard be offered protection from lawsuits.
But, is this the answer? While the government uses “Value of Statistical Life” to make policy and spending decisions, we must remember that the government has limited resources and has to determine how it will spend those resources to reduce the risk to the general public. For government agencies, this is often a question of whether more officers on the road in Arizona will reduce the number of people killed in traffic accidents, or whether road repairs will reduce the fatality rate. Companies operate for profit, and have a responsibility to produce safe products. Sheltering companies from personal injury lawsuits just because a company uses a statistical method to evaluate risk limits the public’s right to seek compensation when these companies fail to produce safe products.
Personal injury lawyers fight to ensure that those who have been hurt due to a defective vehicle receive the money they need for medical expenses, rehabilitation care, and pain and suffering. Protecting companies from lawsuits would mean that these injured families would have no way to receive either justice or compensation. While companies need to use more rigorous standards when assessing a product’s risk, shielding companies from lawsuits for enforcing these standards is hardly a proper incentive.