Two major automakers announced last week that they are issuing huge recalls, bringing the number of vehicles recalled in February in the U.S. to over two million. Toyota is recalling 700,000 Prius hybrids in the U.S., and an additional 1.2 million across the world. Toyota is also recalling 260,000 RAV4s, Tacoma trucks, and Lexus RX 350 SUVs in the U.S. Also, GM is recalling almost 1.4 million Chevy Cobalts, Saturn Ions, Chevy HHRs, Pontiac Solstices, Saturn Skys, and Pontiac G5s.

Toyota’s recalls are related to a software glitch that could damage transistors and cause a loss of power in the vehicles. Toyota is going to fix software for the motor engine control unit and the hybrid control engine control unit. If the settings weren’t fixed, there could be a higher level of heat in certain transistors, which could damage them. Warning lights would illuminate and the vehicle could enter a failsafe mode. In some circumstances, the hybrid system would shut down while the vehicle was being driven, which could result in a loss of power and the vehicle coming to a stop. Fortunately, no accidents or injuries have been reported in connection with the software issues.

However, GM has reported injuries and deaths in connection with the issues that caused its recall. The recalled vehicles have an ignition switch that can shut off a vehicle’s engine and electrical systems, and disable its airbags. Thirteen deaths and 33 injuries have been reported in connection with the problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a heavy keychain or a sudden impact can cause the electrical system and engine to disable. The NHTSA is recommending that drivers of affected vehicles use the key only, without a keychain, until the issue is fixed.

GM may be in hot water over their failure to issue a recall sooner. In 2004, the company received its first report of engines shutting down in Chevy Cobalts. In 2005, an engineer proposed redesigning the key head to address the problem, but his proposal was rejected. The first death tied to a defective ignition switch occurred in 2005, and later that year GM issued a service bulletin to dealers alerting them to the problem, but did not issue a recall. In 2007, safety regulators were aware of the issue but didn’t open an investigation. Not until last month did GM issue a recall on the vehicles, allowing 13 deaths in all to occur.

Currently, safety regulators are investigating whether GM should have acted more quickly in issuing the recall. Once an auto manufacturer is aware of a safety problem, it must inform the NHTSA of its plans for a recall, or face a civil fine of up to $35 million. However, GM could also be facing criminal charges. Toyota is currently under criminal investigation over the way it disclosed complaints about the sudden acceleration in many of its vehicles, and GM could face a similar criminal investigation. Others are criticizing the NHTSA, saying that it was aware of the issue in 2007 and possibly as early as 2005, but failed to act, costing lives.

As this story illustrates, when automakers fail to recall vehicles as soon as they learn about a safety defect, people are killed and numerous others suffer injuries, some of them catastrophic. The automobile manufacturers can be held liable for those deaths. They may be responsible for compensation for injuries, wrongful death, medical expenses, lost wages, and more. The company could also be liable for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the company for its wrongful actions.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that companies owe a duty to customers to manufacture products which are safe. If a company fails to do so, it should be held liable for damages that result. If you’re in Oakland, San Francisco, Tracy, Fairfield, Hayward, Berkeley, or the surrounding areas, and you have been hurt by a defective consumer product, call Micha Star Liberty of Liberty Law, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. Liberty Law helps clients with products liability cases, and will be happy to discuss your case with you. Call today to learn more.

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