More than two dozen ambulance companies serving the metro Atlanta area have open safety recalls on many of their vehicles, with some of the defects going unrepaired for years, an investigative report has found.

The defects were serious enough to prompt manufacturers to issue safety recalls, including leaky pumps that can spark engine fires, transmissions that can change gear without a key in the ignition, and axles, sensors, and welds that are at risk of failing, increasing the chances of a crash, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation discovered.

Federal law requires that manufacturers repair recall safety issues free of charge to the owner, but the law does not mandate that the repairs be made.

To see if ambulance companies were having their emergency vehicles repaired, the AJC obtained a list of about 870 ground ambulances with active licenses operating in the metro Atlanta area, their vehicle identification number (VIN), owner information, and status.

The AJC then ran the VIN through the vehicle recall portal operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), producing a list of 270 open recalls on unrepaired vehicles.

Grady Emergency Medical Services, operated by the Grady Healthcare System, had 111 open recalls, according to the AJC. Many of the vehicles were under multiple safety recalls, according to the NHTSA data. Grady is the exclusive provider of ambulance services for the city of Atlanta and operates in 16 counties.

Care Techs Medical, a Conyers ambulance company that transports patients between dialysis centers, had open recalls that were a decade old, the AJC investigation found.

The AJC also found 55 open recalls on the fleet of 45 ambulances that operate in Gwinnett County.

Although unrepaired safety defects in ambulances can increase the risk of crashes, injury and even death, it’s not clear how many EMS vehicle crashes could be attributed to such problems. There were 430 reports of traffic accidents involving ambulances in Georgia in just the first nine months of the year, according to the AJC.

Several mechanics employed by private ambulance companies or government agencies told the AJC that every safety recall should be taken seriously.

“Something like that is extremely important,” one ambulance mechanic told the AJC. “I would immediately as soon as I saw the letter take in that vehicle the next day.

“They wouldn’t have a recall and spend millions of dollars on free repairs if they felt it wasn’t important for them to recall that vehicle,” he added.

Although ambulance companies may postpone repairs for financial reasons, one significant crash could become an enormous expense for any provider, especially if the accident results in the injury or death of a patient, EMS worker, or other individuals. It’s a matter of self-interest as much as anything else.

“Grounding an ambulance wouldn’t cost a penny compared to the several hundreds of millions of dollars that would have to be paid to settle a lawsuit, and the agony to the family and the patient whose death you caused, all because of not taking the time to get that recall done,” a Georgia ambulance mechanic told the AJC.

Attorneys in Beasley Allen’s Atlanta office handle claims involving auto products liability, which often involves recalls of defective auto products such as airbags, seat belts, seat backs and roof strength, to name a few. For more information, contact Chris Glover, managing attorney of our Atlanta office.

Additional source: The Center for Auto Safety

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