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, Moderator Emeritus
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here's a surprise...

The 'big bad' SUV or truck that crashes into a small car and causes death or serious injuries is on trial in a growing number of damage suits against manufacturers. The result, in a story published in the New York Times (May 30) is comparable to the wave of suits that struck automakers after the 2000 Ford Explorer-Firestone rollover epidemic. Two central issues underlie the suits involving full-size SUVs or pickups striking small cars. One is whether automakers have an obligation to protect occupants in all vehicles from side impacts with airbags, just as they do on front-end crashes. The other issue, already being addressed by fifteen automakers under pressure from the NHTSA, is that of "compatibility" between the high front ends of SUVs and trucks and the lower grid of small vehicles, along with their vulnerability to side impacts.

A highly publicized suit by the family of Dereck Lopez, 18, of Fort Worth, Texas, has raised the issue of whether her Chevrolet Cavalier should have been protected from intrusion of a Chevrolet Silverado in a 2002 accident that caused her death. The suit says side airbags might have prevented fatal skull damage. GM's defense asserts that it has complied with all safety rules and is not liable when big vehicles collide with small ones. So far, says the Times, at least a dozen suits stemming from large-small collisions have been filed against GM, Ford, and Toyota. More than half have been settled, say attorneys involved, some for multi-million-dollar amounts. More such suits are forecast by Richard L. Denney, an Oklahoma lawyer who chaired a committee of plaintiff attorneys that consolidated suits against Firestone in an outgrowth of the Ford Explorer rollover mishaps.

Federal crash data show that in side impacts, SUVs cause nearly three times more fatalities to car occupants, and pickups have five times more fatalities than if the striking vehicle is a car. Automakers are responding by adjusting bumper and grille heights so that overriding is reduced or even eliminated. The NHTSA has proposed a safety standard calling for mandatory side airbags by 2010. -Mac Gordon
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