Lawyers in our firm have learned over the years that many large corporations, and especially those in the automobile and drugs industries, all too often put their profits over the safety and welfare of their customers. In many of the crashworthiness cases our lawyers have handled against automakers, not only did companies cover up known safety defects, they could have fixed the problem for a small amount per vehicle. For example, General Motors could have fixed the ignition switch defect it knew about and hid from the public and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for only 57 cents per car. The Vioxx litigation exposed Merck’s wrongful conduct, which included lying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it was clear that marketing and profits drove that train. The following chart gives examples of the costs to fix defects and save lives involving automakers and known defects.
The bosses in Corporate America know that the federal government agencies do a poor job of regulation. In the automobile industry they know that they can cover up known defects with no fear of being caught – even though folks are being killed and injured – by NHTSA. The FDA is another agency that is a prime example of the “tail wagging the dog,” and consumers suffer as a result. The judicial system – and specifically civil juries – wind up doing the job of regulation in many industries. We know from experience that lawsuit results get the attention of the corporate bosses.
I could write a book on this subject and may do so at some time in the future. That book would definitely include GM’s silent recall campaign; GM’s $2,500 program; and GM’s ignition switch debacle. The book would also include Kubota’s being forced to provide Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) on their tractors. Also, a chapter would include Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems caused by a defect that the automaker covered up for more than 10 years. The common denominator for all of these is “corporate profits over safety.” Hopefully, the American people will demand that Corporate America change its ways and make safety a real priority in the boardrooms.