Hidden Dangers Harm Society: Award Caps, Tort Reform and Rising Litigation Costs

Harm due to product defects are on the rise, while the reluctance of the legal industry to take on those cases results in even more danger to society. Lawyers do not want to take on product defect cases against major corporations for several reasons. Award caps in many states, tort reform and rising litigation costs are increasing hidden dangers to society.

Not Enough Value in Loss of a Life?

The response from many legal firms to people who have lost loved ones due to product defects seems at times to be unethical, harsh and mean-spirited, based only on the almighty dollars to be reaped. Recently, according to an extensive New York Times article about this problem involving General Motors and airbag accidents, parents of an 18-year-old girl, Natasha Weigel, were essentially told that the value of their child’s life was not worth the time and risky expense of a public lawsuit.

This airbag defect has apparently caused the deaths of at least 42 people, yet only a few cases have received any public notice. Settlements are sworn to be held secret, and the details of the problem are not disclosed to the public. Perhaps if this information received publicity, some deaths could be avoided.

Award Caps and Tort Reform

Part of the issue involves state laws about award caps and tort reform. Another contributing factor is the rising cost of litigation, especially when high-image law firms are asked to take on cases. Some refuse unless the potential award would be in the millions of dollars. It is estimated by one Wisconsin law firm that with litigation, maximum awards for this type of case in that state would be capped at $350,000. This would be insufficient to cover the extremely high expenses of their participation in litigation against General Motors.

Hiding Facts Results in Deaths

Some successful cases have been taken and won in states that do not have an award cap, like Georgia. The lawyers do not bear full responsibility for this issue; GM and Federal safety regulators are part of this problem as well. Without publicity, the public is far less likely to be made aware of a particular problem. In the Weigel case, the defect was a problem that allowed the ignition to switch off, thus rendering the protective airbags useless.

In another case, a young lady was killed when her steering failed and subsequently the airbags also failed to inflate because the ignition also shut off. The family was offered a $5 million settlement that was to be kept private. GM later disclosed that defect and initiated a recall. The concern with many cases of deaths due to auto product defects is that companies know about the problem, but do not warn the public. Lawyers for the large corporations do not push for publicity because their jobs would then be at risk. People are killed in crashes caused by those same defect problems, with no opportunity to avoid the situation because they remain unaware of a problem.

With many deaths due to a particular defect, the problems do eventually become known to the public, or when recalls are issued. Still, award caps, tort reform and rising litigation costs allow hidden dangers to harm society. The ultimate answer to this problem remains elusive.