Michael Fumento warns that the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “has no category for ‘sudden acceleration,’ merely a ‘speed control’ category.” The result is that many complaints of lack of acceleration can wind up getting counted and cited as if they supported the trial lawyers’ case.
Michael Fumento on “misinformation cascades” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
According to Kelley’s Blue Book, consumers are trending back toward the Japanese maker in their buying plans. [New York Times “Bucks” blog] That’s despite the menace of rays from outer space, as denounced by one anonymous informant to NHTSA. [Detroit Free Press, which has a PDF of the submission from “A Concerned Scientist”]
More: On a more serious note, Holman Jenkins has a good column today [WSJ, sub-only] tracing the key role of bandwagon effects in sudden acceleration consciousness (which is one reason waves of complaints tend to occur in clumps, by carmaker and otherwise). Excerpt:
…In 2001, at least four papers were presented at the annual meeting of the Trial Lawyers Association urging a revival of sudden unintended acceleration litigation, insisting that such cases could prevail in absence of evidence of a defect, and even amid evidence of driver error, simply by harping in front of a jury on a record of “Other Similar Incidents” (OSI).
That’s the roadmap being followed now, as lawyer Randy Roberts told CNBC this week: “Toyota is very good at taking one consumer complaint about sudden unintended acceleration and dissecting it and convincing you that it may have been a floor mat or driver error or a sticky pedal. But when you put all those complaints out on the table, then you can see the big picture. That’s how you connect the dots.”
Huh? The logic here is ridiculous. To wit: 15 examples of X causing Y are proof that something other than X must cause Y.
- In much-publicized recent Harrison, N.Y. crash, computer shows no indication that housekeeper driving car was using the brake [NY Times, Detroit News]
- My National Review Online piece (which spent a couple of days in the #1 and #2 most-read positions at that site) is discussed by Damon Root at Reason “Hit and Run” among elsewhere;
- 69 year old plows her car into a clinic waiting room in Peabody, Mass., but she was driving an Infiniti so everyone can turn the page [Boston Herald]
- About that “declining quality at Toyota” meme [Truth About Cars, Fumento and more]
- As I pointed out in the NRO piece, complaints of unintended acceleration ebb and flow for reasons that often seem to have more to do with cultural and media trends than with what might actually be going on with the cars. Apropos of which, blogger Auto Prophet says complaints actually dropped drastically during the years that electronic throttle controls became common;
- NHTSA administrator Strickland, who counts as a bit of a hostile witness around these parts, testified last week that “the rate of complaints against Toyota, when compared with other makers, was ‘unremarkable.'” [WaPo]
- Toyota demanding retraction of ABC News story [Gawker]
- Here’s a seminar on how to sue, with CLE credit and speakers from firms like Kline & Specter;
- Highway deaths fall to historic low [David Henderson/EconLog, Payne/NRO “Planet Gore”]
- Simply priceless: the L.A. Times, which of all the big papers perhaps most reliably transmits a Litigation Lobby view of the world, prints a grossly tendentious paean to the glories of auto-design litigation that relies extensively on the views of Ben Kelley — yes, the Ben Kelley. One place to begin for a corrective is Charles Babcock’s paper, “Approaches to Product Liability Risk in the U.S. Automotive Industry“, published in the 1994 National Academy of Engineering volume Product Liability and Innovation: Managing Risk in an Uncertain Environment.
- Sam Smith at Jalopnik is taking a hard line: “America, You Brought The Toyota Hoax On Yourself”
In 1992, Diana Maychick drove her mother’s Oldsmobile back to Washington Place in Greenwich Village, and got out. Her mother, the 74-year-old Stella Maychick, slid over from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, readying herself to return to Yonkers. Maycheck, a shorter-than-average woman, suddenly took off in the car, which sped up, ran two stop signs, and tore through Washington Square Park, killing five and maiming several others.
Diana Maychick is now Diana Foote, a restaurant reviewer for a Palm Beach newspaper, and recently recounted the accident, claiming the recent Toyota troubles exonerated her mother.
Which I found fascinating, because I worked on that litigation—and the evidence that Maychick hit the gas instead of the brake was so strong that the plaintiffs’ lawyers abandoned the standard specious “mysterious gremlins caused the car to accelerate” theory and replaced it with a “General Motors knew that drivers were hitting the wrong pedal but didn’t do enough to warn them” theory. I took issue with Foote’s column in a letter to the newspaper.
As for the lawsuit itself, the judge excused everyone in the voir dire who expressed the remotest skepticism about plaintiffs’ theory, and GM settled shortly after the start of trial. One certainly marvels at the chutzpah of the theory of the case, given trial lawyers’ role in trying to persuade the public that driver error couldn’t possibly be to blame.
And in timely news, a specious $18M sudden acceleration verdict (see our August 2006 coverage) was unanimously reversed by the South Carolina Supreme Court after they threw out junk-science testimony theorizing that electromagnetic interference with the cruise control caused the sudden acceleration. Passengers in the crash that wore their seatbelts were uninjured, but the unbelted driver was paralyzed. The plaintiff has the option of a new trial. (Sonya Watson v. Ford Motor Company, h/t L Nettles comment).
Don’t miss Walter’s phenomenal overview of the Toyota sudden acceleration frenzy, and its remarkable similarity’s to last generation’s Audi frenzy. At today’s NRO.
Update: Fumento goes farther on the James Sikes story than I did. I also found the idea that Sikes reached for the accelerator while driving implausible after trying to repeat the experiment in a (parked!) Prius.