- “To the public, a car’s status is binary: it is either broken or working, flawed or functional.” But to an engineer… [Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker; our coverage of autos and sudden acceleration]
- Canadian court awards special costs, akin to sanctions, for bad litigant conduct in “Real Housewives of Vancouver” divorce case [CBC]
- As IRS scandals grind on, lawyers defending agency meet with less than favorable reception before D.C. Circuit panel [Scott Johnson, Power Line, our earlier takes here, here, etc.]
- Gov. Larry Hogan signs Tesla bill, okay. But Maryland auto buyers should be demanding more freedom than that [my Free State Notes, related Peter Van Doren, Cato and Nick Zaiac, Maryland Public Policy Institute]
- Why one victim of Washington, D.C.’s peeping-Tom rabbi isn’t suing [Bethany S. Mandel]
- After Illinois Supreme Court rules that state constitution forbids lawmakers ever to cut public pensions for any reason, Moody’s slashes Chicago bond rating to junk status [Daniel Fisher; David Skeel, On Labor]
- Panel on Capitol Hill tomorrow (Fri., 5/22) on lessons of Baltimore with Cato’s Tim Lynch, Matthew Feeney, Michael Tanner, moderated by Peter Russo [register or watch online] Richard Epstein on Baltimore with a critique of both 1) police unions and 2) Ta-Nehisi Coates’s apologia for violence [Hoover “Defining Ideas”]
- Lester Brickman, others testify before House subcommittee on proposed asbestos-reform FACT Act [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
- “B.C. student-turned-dominatrix awarded $1.5M after car accident left her with new personality” [National Post]
- Here, have some shredded fairness: New Jersey lawmakers advance False Claims Act bill with retroactive provisions [NJLRA] Maryland False Claims Act, which I warned about last year, reintroduced as leading priority of new attorney general Brian Frosh [Maryland Reporter; my coverage here, here, etc.]
- Oregon: a “man badly burned when he poured gasoline on a fire is suing Walmart, claiming the gas can he bought there was defective.” [KOIN]
- Minnesota jury is latest to buy sudden-acceleration case, awards $11 million against Toyota [Reuters]
- Insurers, trial lawyers gear up for Texas legislative fight over hailstorm litigation [Bloomberg/Insurance Journal]
- Breaks ankle in “watch this” stunt, files negligence claim, but some spoilsport posted the footage to YouTube [U.K.: City of London police]
- Was California workers’ comp claim against NFL by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer-turned-P.I.-lawyer inconsistent with his mixed martial arts prowess? [Tampa Bay Times, Lakeland Ledger, earlier and more on California workers’ comp and professional football]
- Salt Lake City’s $6,500 stings: “Secret Shopper Hired to Punish Lyft & Uber Actually Prefers Them” [Connor Boyack, Libertas Institute]
- Are libertarians undermining public accommodations law? (If only.) [Stanford Law Review, Samuel Bagenstos and Richard Epstein via Paul Horwitz]
- Why NYC is losing its last bed and breakfasts [Crain’s New York via @vpostrel]
- U.S. continues foolish policy of restricting crude oil and gas exports, time for that to change [David Henderson first and second posts]
- So it seems the New York Times is now committed to the theory that Toyotas show mechanical unintended acceleration;
- OK, the future Kansas politician was at the strip club strictly on attorney business when the police arrived. Was he billing? [Politico]
Popular radio host Mike Rosen had me on his program last week to talk about the Justice Department’s aggressive use of criminal law against the Japanese automaker (earlier here). Also check out Canadian columnist Terence Corcoran’s view: “Intended media acceleration and the assault on Toyota” [Financial Post]
Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.
I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.
A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.
It’s behind a paywall, but the WSJ columnist looks into a question touched on repeatedly in this space and connects it to the unpredictability with which juries may credit expert testimony, as an Oklahoma jury recently did in Toyota litigation:
Toyota had been vigorously fighting hundreds of complaints that its cars are prone to unintended acceleration. Now it’s moving toward a global settlement as a consequence of a single Oklahoma lawsuit that appears to establish that Toyota can’t prevail if it can’t prove a negative—that its software didn’t go haywire in some untraceable and unreplicable manner. …
The Bookout jury was apparently impressed by the testimony of software expert Michael Barr. He said a single “bit flip” (the smallest instance of data corruption) could cause uncontrolled acceleration when the driver had been using cruise control, stopped using cruise control, then resumed using cruise control to let the car accelerate back to its selected speed. …
The connection to Ms. Bookout’s crash, which didn’t involve cruise control and took place on an exit ramp? None, except Mr. Barr claimed that “software failure is consistent with the description of the [Bookout] accident” and “more likely than not” a factor.
Jenkins notes, as have others, that if some mysterious and unreplicable bug is causing Toyotas to accelerate suddenly while disabling the brakes, it seems to differentially appear in cars being driven by elderly drivers, which are greatly overrepresented in the crash statistics.
More: Kyle Graham on whether vaccine liability limits make a plausible precedent for limits on liability for driverless cars.
Lawyers have taken unintended-acceleration cases to trial on a variety of theories, including pedal placement and lack of brake override, but have not had much success in arguing that electronic gremlins inhabit the vehicle and that the driver was correctly pressing the brake. Has their luck changed with an Oklahoma jury’s new verdict? The Japanese automaker doesn’t seem to want to take chances, and promptly settled the case, represented on the plaintiff’s side by Montgomery, Ala.’s Beasley Allen. [National Law Journal, The Truth About Cars; Peter Huber on the Audi scare a quarter-century ago] Commenter at TTAC: “I’d like to see this happen with a jury of engineers.” More: Mass Tort Prof.
“A jury cleared Toyota Motor Corp. of liability Thursday in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a Southern California woman killed in a 2009 crash that occurred amid widespread reports of unintended acceleration involving Toyota vehicles.” Despite regular hints in places like the Los Angeles Times that undetected electronic defects might be to blame for sudden acceleration, lawyers for Uno’s family went to trial on the more prosaic theory that Toyota was wrong not to have included a brake override system in the car as an added help to drivers who might be unable to correct a depressed gas pedal. A jury disagreed. [AP/NBC Los Angeles; L.A. Times]
The bogus Toyota sudden-acceleration scandal, fed by credulous media and hungry lawyers, has now cost the Japanese automaker upwards of one billion dollars on paper in settlements, despite the lack of an actual mechanical basis for the claims. (The “on paper” is a necessary qualifier because class action settlements typically fall short of transferring the actual sums declared) Yet many more lawsuits remain unsettled, including one nearing trial alleging that the automaker was negligent in not installing a system that cuts off accelerator power when the brake pedal is depressed. Whatever their value as a gesture of reassurance, such systems are of no help whatsoever in the actual sudden-acceleration accidents that typically make it to court, in which drivers mistakenly believe themselves to be pressing the brake when their foot is actually on the accelerator. [L.A. Times, whose coverage as usual disappoints]
P.S. National Law Journal coverage of pending trial:
“The heart of the mass tort was always the electronic throttle control. The fact that the first trial is going and not bringing that theory is interesting,” said Byron Stier, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in mass tort litigation. “Look how far that is from the original panic of this.”
- Abuse of out-of-state motorists an issue: “The Perils of Policing for Profit: Why Tennessee should reform its civil asset forfeiture laws” [Beacon Center, earlier]
- Manhattan: “Lawyer takes plea in $279M no-fault auto insurance fraud case” [ABA Journal]
- “AAA Warns of ‘Dangerous’ Free Market in Parking Spaces” [Matt Yglesias, Slate via Tim Carney]
- Negotiated rates on auto loans at dealerships might violate Obama administration’s disparate-impact guidelines [Roger Clegg]
- Not great for Law dot com’s credibility: Corp Counsel mag throws in with “sudden acceleration” goofery; and here’s an effort to gear up acceleration claims against Ford too.
- Ethanol group menaces Phillips with antitrust charge unless it alters franchiser rule [Alexander Cohen, Atlas]
- “Two researchers call for installing technology to disable cellphones in moving cars” [L.A.Times via Fair Warning]