US car makers may no longer dominate their industry they way they did a generation or two ago, but, as the New York Times recently detailed, their political clout in Washington remains formidable. As a result, the industry enjoys protections for unsafe and irresponsible behavior that other industries do not even when it results in auto accidents here in Oregon and elsewhere.
The newspaper reports that “legal loopholes that the auto industry helped create” are complicating efforts to hold both the auto makers and individuals working for them accountable for defective products they sold to millions of Americans over a period of years – products that led to many deaths and injuries.
“In one prominent example, lobbyists and trade groups blunted a law requiring car companies to notify regulators of certain safety defects within five working days, persuading Congress to water it down so that it carries only civil penalties, not criminal liability,” the paper notes. The article goes on to outline sensible proposals for accountability put forward over the last several decades by Republicans and Democrats alike, all of which have been eliminated or gutted in final legislation. It notes that “other industries, like pharmaceuticals and food” do not enjoy similar protections.
In one particularly shocking example, the paper details how the industry killed a proposal by a Republican senator “that would have made it criminal for auto manufacturers to introduce vehicles with safety defects into interstate commerce if they know of the defects at the time.” Today, the collective result of these measures is that “prosecutors cannot automatically charge G.M., or any of its employees, for a defect linked to deaths of at least 124 people.”
As an Oregon and Washington lawyer whose practice focuses on defective products, safety and accountability I hope everyone reading this will urge our legislators to end these unwarranted protections and allow victims of the auto industry’s negligent and dangerous practices to get the justice they deserve. The entire basis of our court system is that no one is above the law. It is shocking – and where Congress is concerned, disappointing – to find that in some ways the car companies have ensured that, for now at least, they are beyond its reach.