July 6, 2013

Seven Car Pile-up Nets Six DUIs

Law enforcement was bracing for a high accident rate during this 4-day July 4th weekend. But no one was expecting this: police cited six out of seven drivers for DUI in a multiple car accident on a Georgia highway. Neither the emergency room of a hospital nor the police station is anyone's idea of a party venue. These drivers and their passengers are all just lucky it wasn't the morgue. Several were injured but nobody died. You can read the full article here.

The Department of Transportation reports that on average, "Every 2 hours, three people are killed in alcohol-related highway crashes." That is about 40% of all highway fatalities.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous long before the legal blood-alcohol limit is reached. Even moderate drinking impairs coordination, judgment, vision and concentration. Critically, it also reduces reaction time. And late at night, into the wee hours of the morning when this I-75 accident occurred, perfectly normal fatigue compounds each of these risk factors.

Although manufacturers, crash-test engineers, safety advocates, and the government have combined to make great strides in vehicle safety over the last few decades, the "designated driver" may be the greatest safety factor of all.


March 11, 2013

Second Thoughts About Run Flat Tires

Are run-flat tires all they have been cracked up to be? The original idea was that these super-tires could be driven for awhile even if punctured, thereby eliminating the need to carry a spare. Many passenger cars and light trucks are now sold with four tires, rather than five. When they first came onto the market, car critics and consumers alike raved about the promised benefits and hoped for the best.

But now, that convenience has lead to a lot of complaints, not the least of which is that the specialized tires are much more expensive than regular rubber. Some drivers have expressed concern about repeated loss of tire pressure. In addition, there have been reports that particular models, including certain BMWs, show evidence of cracking in the wheel rims. This is important because, while most other makers no longer put run-flat tires on standard vehicles, BMW persists. Some technicians contend the car owners themselves are to blame, for hitting a curb or their driving technique. But, consumers really cry foul when BMW claims the high-cost repairs are not covered under warranty.

Whether manufacturer engineers have figured out a fix for the various problems remains to be seen. Meanwhile, no luxury car driver likes to be told that an obvious problem is the result of some obscure driver error.


November 28, 2012

Toyota Recalls Millions of Cars, Including Corolla and Prius Models

Toyota's problems continue to cascade through a series of announcements and news reports. In October 2012, media drew its attention to Toyota's world-wide recall of about 7.43 million vehicles, for defects in the power window switches causing a risk of fire. That was the manufacturer's largest single recall ever.

Now the popular Japanese brand has announced the recall of another 2.8 million cars, involving multiple model years. The latest announcement concerns problems in the steering system and electric water pumps.

The good news is that Toyota is owning up to defects and giving its broad fleet of consumers fair notice and an opportunity to have the problems fixed. The bad news is that Toyota might soon surpass its competition for the dubious distinction of being most-recalled auto maker ever. At the same time, it is important to note that the absolute number of vehicles recalled reflects Toyota's high global market share, and the recalls are not for the entire vehicle, but particular components. Toyota Prius owners, in particular, are notably loyal to the brand and Toyota's dominance among hybrids is likely to continue.

August 20, 2012

GM Recalls 250,000 SUVs Due to Risk of Fire

General Motors and Isuzu have issued a safety recall for approximately 250,000 SUVs prone to unacceptable risk of fire. After numerous reports of vehicle fires going back as much as 5 years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating the problem for months, and the action is long overdue. The fires are believed to be caused by a defect in the electrical system that services the power windows and doors. The affected electrical systems failed to protect their circuits against chemicals used in winter road-clearance; corrosion then causes a short in the circuit board. This could trigger window or door malfunction -- or ultimately, fire. The problem is what is referred to as a "latent defect," one that did not show up until the vehicles were several years old. Many of these SUVs have been sold and resold, not just in areas of harsh winter weather, but throughout the country.

The SUVs do not even have to be running when the fire starts. One woman reported that she looked out a window to her driveway when she heard the car alarm go off. She was horrified to see her 2006 Trailblazer going up in flames. The fire department found the source of the fire to be in the driver's side door.

Among the models recalled are certain 2006-2007 Isuzu Ascender, Saab 97-X, Buick Rainier, GMC Envoy and the popular Chevy Trailblazer. Saab was part of General Motors back then and GM build the Ascender model for Isuzu during the relevant time. You can find out more details from NHTSA by accessing the Campaign Number 12V40600.

This recall is particularly important, because repair dealers have told consumers complaining about electric window malfunctions that these SUVs are out of warranty. Now, owners will soon be notified of the repair or remedy. In our practice, we have heard manufacturers claim that defective door locks and window mechanisms are "trivial," or even that consumers started the fire themselves. These desperate defenses do not get far in court. Now, this recall gives credibility to car owners' claims that vehicle electrical systems do in fact affect the use, value and safety of the vehicles.


June 22, 2012

GM Recalls Chevy Cruze Vehicles for Fire Danger

General Motors has announced recall of nearly half a million cars due to risk of fire. The recall involves its top-selling Chevrolet Cruze compact car. The affected models include cars built between September 2010 and May 2012 at GM's Ohio assembly plant. Some may still be sitting on the showroom floor. 1325125009.jpg

The recall comes at a bad moment for GM. The compact Cruze has been a popular competitor to the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic, both of which saw production lag after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011. But sales of the Cruze already started to fall as more of the popular Japanese cars have reentered the U.S. market.

The fire hazard recall affects more than 475,000 vehicles. There have been at least 30 fires caused by the problem, and while some of the cars have been completely destroyed by flames, GM claims it knows of no injuries or fatalities caused by fire in the Chevy Cruzes to date.

General Motors believes it can fix the problem by cutting an oil shield to let the flammable fluids drain to the pavement. The repairs take about 30 minutes and are free, the company said.


May 16, 2012

Keyless Ignition - The Dangers of Convenience

keyless-ignition.jpg Carbon monoxide poisoning is a high price to pay for a little convenience. Incessant idling, however, can lead to injury or death in circumstances where a car's ignition does not turn itself off. There have been reported deaths related to vehicles that were inadvertently left running in closed garages, leading to build-up of the notorious odorless gas. This is particularly true since cars now run so much more quietly than before. Experts say drivers forget to press the "off" button, when they eliminate the habit of removing the key.

Consumer advocates including the American Association for Justice have urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Association to adopt a rule requiring keyless ignition engines in cars and trucks to shut themselves off after 30 minutes of idling. Even this request seems to allow excessive idling duration, due to the serious danger involved.

Gas poisoning is not the only problem with keyless ignition systems. It is one thing to forget to turn off a car, but it is scary to think of being unable to do so. Difficulties with engine shut-off arose in NHTSA hearings concerning sudden acceleration problems as well.

Meanwhile, the market continues to grow for keyless ignition options, as well as keyless entry systems. Who has not had the frustrating experience of losing one's keys? Unfortunately, the technology is struggling to meet the demand.

April 20, 2012

Hyundai objects to Seat Belt Safety Recall


You would think that if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a safety recall for something as serious as seatbelts, the manufacturer would repair or replace ALL the defective seatbelts, not just some of them. But not Hyundai.

NHTSA announced that Sonata Hybrid models produced between December 2, 2010 and shipped to dealers through March 7, 2012 are being recalled, because they are equipped with a center rear seat belt fail to meet federal safety standards. About 14,728 cars are covered under the recall. Astonishingly, Hyundai balked at replacing the defective belts on approximately 13,095 cars already sold and on the road. It wants to get off cheaply by replacing only the belts in approximately 1,633 new cars still sitting in dealer inventory.

Hyundai Motor Company announced that it intends to file a petition for exemption from the recall on the basis that “the noncompliance described is inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety." Meanwhile, Hyundai is not obligated to conduct an owner notification campaign until the petition is resolved. Whoever wins in this dispute, we wish manufacturers would err on the side of safety, not minimum compliance.

March 10, 2012

Drive Wide Awake - Arrive Alive

Sleep-deprived driving is more common, and far more hazardous, than you might think. Experts estimate that as many as 15% of deadly crashes involve a drowsy driver. Like the mental state of DUI, anything that causes reduced reaction time, inattention or impaired responsiveness is a red flag. Sometimes it is best just to get home by cab.

The National Sleep Foundation is on a mission to improve this public health hazard. It suggests that any of the following should prompt a driver to pull over:

▪ Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyelids
▪ Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
▪ Trouble keeping your head up
▪ Drifting, swerving, hitting rumble strips
▪ Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
▪ Missing exits
▪ Yawning repeatedly

These symptoms are what famed Stanford sleep guru, Dr. William Dement, referred to as “Red Alert.” In other words, don't ignore the urge to sleep.

A new smart phone application gives you a great way to measure your sleep quality. For $.99, you can download the incredible iPhone app “Sleep Cycle" from iTunes. You position your phone on the edge of your bed, where it senses the tiniest movement. In the morning you have a detailed, hour-by-hour graph of your descent into deep sleep and spikes of wakefulness. I don't know how accurate it is, because deep sleep is complicated, and perhaps more about brain waves than body movement. But after tossing and turning all night, it might not even be safe to drive to work!

March 7, 2012

More Bad News For Nissan

Just as we finished reporting on a fuel sensor defect in certain Infinitis, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Defects Investigation now announces two additional recalls.

Campaign number 12VO79 reports a side airbag recall in certain 2003-2005 Infiniti Q45 vehicles. A defect in the wiring connector may cause non-deployment in the event of a crash. Even though these vehicles are otherwise out-of-warranty, Nissan will modify the wiring connector free of charge. Affected owners can expect a notice from Nissan beginning March 12, 2012.

Campaign number 12VO76 draws attention to the 2011-2012 Nissan Quest. Certain vehicle of this make and model, manufactured from July 29, 2010 through February 21, 2012 have a stalling problem due to software programming.

Some manufacturers contend that stalling or sudden deceleration is merely a driveability, or performance, problem. This is not the case. Loss of speed can be a serious safety problem in many situations – heavy traffic, turning left, changing lanes, freeway entry, or normal freeway driving. Nissan and NHTSA are reporting this as a safety recall, scheduled to begin in mid-March 2012. Owners ay contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261 for more information.

February 20, 2012

Airbag Safety Recall

The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency has issued a safety recall for side airbag inflators used by a variety of manufacturers. The federal safety agency warns of the airbag's possible failure to deploy in the event of a collision, due to an error in the propellant mixture causing insufficient output of compressed gas.

Owners of the affected 2012 vehicles should be notified by mail, but you can get more information by clicking on the NHTSA campaign numbers here. For Nissan 12V055, for Honda 12V030, and for Suburu 12V047

Of course, drivers should never totally rely on airbags, but use them as a secondary safety device. It is still important to buckle-up. Think of it like the lifeboat on a vessel – you don’t really know if it will inflate until you are sinking.

If you get a recall notice, be sure to schedule an appointment to get your car fixed.


November 15, 2010

Windshield Wiper Defects Are A Winter Safety Hazard

windshield%20wipers.jpg
The California lemon law covers defects that impair the use, value or safety of a vehicle. This is called the “substantial impairment” rule. Only truly trivial matters fall outside the scope of the lemon law.

To our surprise, some manufacturers try to tell car owners that defective windshield wipers are not worth worrying about and that a failure to fix them is not covered under the lemon law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Are they confusing “little” with “trivial?” If you live anywhere but the Atacama Desert, windshield wipers are among the most important safety devices on any passenger vehicle.

Just as November weather is upon us, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a recall of Chrysler Jeep 2008 model SUVs for defective windshield wiper motors. NHTSA Campaign ID Number : 10V550 If you get this notice, respond right away.

The windshield wiper was first patented by a female inventor named Mary Anderson. During a winter visit to New York City in 1902, she noticed that the trolley car operator drove with the front window open because of difficulty keeping the windshield clear of blinding sleet. Bundling her own overcoat more tightly, she thought of a mechanism to control the blade from inside of the trolley and keep the draught out. She had a model made of her design and patented it shortly thereafter. In those days a patent was good for just 17 years, and the auto industry took it up as soon as it expired.

Most automobiles use two synchronized radial type arms, while some SUVs and station wagons use one pantograph arm. The intermittent windshield wiper was invented by Bob Kearns. His battle with Ford Motor Company was chronicled in the award-winning movie, “Flash of Genius.”

Although there is a range of acceptable design, properly functioning windshield wipers are standard safety features on passenger vehicles. Don’t let any car dealer tell you otherwise.

June 24, 2010

NCLC Consumer Resources

nclc_logo.jpg The National Consumer Law Center just launched a new website. Check it out here. The nonprofit center, headquartered in Boston, has been a premier source of assistance for consumers, legal services and consumer lawyers for decades.

Its new website provides information on NCLC's recent reports, numerous publications and current initiatives. Among other things, NCLC publishes reports on scams and predatory trends in consumer transactions, manuals and treatises on a wide variety of legal topics affecting consumers, as well as other books for lawyers and the public alike.Return%20to%20Sender.JPG NCLC is the publisher of "Return to Sender - Getting a Replacement for Your Lemon Car" by Nancy Barron.

In addition to its publications, NCLC funds research, legal conferences and consumer education programs on a wide range of important consumer topics -- from automotive fraud and warranty law, to financial abuse of the elderly, energy policy, student loans, and predatory lending.

Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg is actively involved in the work of NCLC. Bryan Kemnitzer is a member of the partner's council and Nancy Barron currently serves on its board of directors.

May 10, 2010

Infiniti Safety Recall for Airbags

Airbags in a car are like the lifeboat on a small vessel. You don’t need them often, but you do need to know that they will work in an emergency. The problem is there is no easy way to test them out, because once deployed they must be professionally repacked.

Several years ago, a man and his wife came into our office. They had purchased a truck advertised to have driver’s and passenger’s side airbags. When their grandchildren came to visit, they looked for a switch (sometimes called a PSIR) that can suppress the airbag when children are present in the front seat. airbag.jpgThere was no suppression switch. Why? Because there were no airbags! Somehow, the manufacturer had engineered the vehicle in just such a way that the airbag did not fit on the passenger side. Oooops. The manufacturer (in that case GM) later argued that it “forgot” to tell the buyers they had left the airbags out. The vehicle could not be modified to add the airbags later. We filed a class action and, in the end, the owners of thousands of vehicles were entitled to rescind and return their trucks.

Learning that the advertised airbags were missing was like tossing a packed lifeboat into the water only to watch it sink instead of float and deploy. Even with airbags in vehicles, it is wise (and required under California law) to buckle up as well for the best protection in a crash. While they should not be relied on in place of seatbelts, properly manufactured airbags do save lives.

The Center for Auto Safety deserves credit for being an early proponent of airbags, and remains a good source of information concerning the variations in safety records of different brands. Nissan has been no stranger to problems in its sudden restraint systems over the years. For that reason, it was not a total surprise today when NHTSA announced a Nissan recall for nondeployment of passenger airbags in 2005-2007 Infiniti cars. See NHTSA Campaign ID Number 10V175.

May 3, 2010

Toyota's Problems Continue

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported today that Toyota is recalling certain 2003 Sequoia SUVs for a problem in the vehicle stability control system. Should the problem occur, the Sequoia "may not accelerate as quickly as the driver expects,increasing the risk of a crash." You can read the full recall notice here. The Sequoia was Toyota's first full-size SUV, coming out in 2001. Throughout the model lifetime, it has been marketed for families with children and carpool purposes, so even a remote or minor safety concern has serious implications for family use. The model has gone through a lot of changes since 2001, and for that matter since 2003. For the time being, this notice is limited to the 2003 model year.

Like other recalls, this announcement comes from the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), a department within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ODI conducts defect investigations and administers safety recalls to support the NHTSA’s mission to improve safety on the nation's highways. ODI also reports on and monitors the adequacy of manufacturers' own voluntary recall campaigns.
safercarlogo.gifToyota states that it will notify owners. However, most of the affected vehicles are otherwise out of warranty and may have changed ownership several times. For that reason, Toyota may not be able to notify new owners directly. If this applies to you, call the Toyota hotline at 800-331-4331 or go to the NHTSA sponsored website at http://www.safercar.gov.

April 1, 2010

Toyota Closes NUMMI Plant in California

NUMMI%202.jpg The curtain closes this week on an iconic scene in American industrial history, when the last Tacoma truck and Toyota Corolla roll off the NUMMI assembly line in Fremont, California. Thus ends the last act of a drama in which 4,700 workers lost their jobs and the only major automotive factory west of the Rockies closed its doors.

The New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant, fondly referred to as NUMMI, opened in 1984 and continued for roughly 25 years. In that time it produced about 7.7 million cars and trucks at the massive 5.3 million sq.ft. complex.

In the beginning, NUMMI was hailed as a bold experiment, in which a unionized American manufacturing force melded with Japanese management. NUMMI was a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, which skeptics dismissed as strange bedfellows. NUMMI.jpg But the relationship turned out to benefit both. Toyota got a “Made in USA” gloss to its products and GM got Japanese manufacturing expertise. The UAW workers were introduced to “kaizan,” the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. The NUMMI marriage lasted amicably for a quarter century of production. But when GM hit the skids last year and pulled out of their venture, Toyota just couldn’t hold on to NUMMI alone.

Despite months of warning and generous severance packages, the union workers express disappointment and devastation. A pall of disbelief hangs in the Bay Area air. A remarkable number of employees are quoted as saying that the atmosphere at the plant was like a family. Many express personal and professional pride in the factory’s well-known record for quality. While Toyota, like every car manufacturer, is occasionally plagued with design defects, NUMMI had a reputation for rarely letting a mechanical defect roll out the door.

The NUMMI plant was often referred to as a “great American success story.” That hopeful phrase now rings as hollow as an echo through NUMMI’s cavernous and empty assembly halls. For more information click here

March 24, 2010

Lemon Law Coverage for Wheel Chairs and Adapted Vehicles

This week, we received notification from NHTSA's Office of Defects and Investigation concerning Ricon wheelchair lifts used in Diamond Coaches. These vehicles are small buses used to transport senior citizens and others who are unable to drive. The defect notices involve nonconformities in the restraint belt and lift software which could result in possible injury to wheelchair occupants. The manufacturer offers a warning label and a user DVD while Ricon attempts to fix the problem. You can find out more about these recall and investigation notices by checking out NHTSA Campaign ID Number 10V106 and 10V109.If, in fact, the occupant in the wheelchair is not secure when lifted into the vehicle, clearly more than a warning is needed. 1211448_wheelchair.jpg

The market for medical equipment, vehicle modifications and assistive devices, is big business. Health care patients are consumers of medical equipment. The California Lemon Law applies to such goods when purchased for consumers and small businesses. Other California consumer protection laws, such as the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, even offer additional penalties if false advertising or other sales practices target senior citizens or disabled persons who suffer substantial physical, emotional or economic damage thereby. Other statutes protecting against financial abuse of the infirm or elderly can also apply.

The California Lemon Law (the “Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act”) even has a separate section devoted to wheelchairs, requiring that they “shall be accompanied by the manufacturer’s or lessor’s written express warranty that the wheelchair is free of defects.” In addition, the Act states that every sale of “assistive devices” in California carries an implied warranty that the “device is specifically fit for the particular needs of the buyer.” The definition of “assistive device” excludes eyeglasses, but is otherwise extremely broad.

At the same time, not every manufacturer is liable for vehicle modifications that it does not authorize. So-called “after market” adaptations, if unauthorized, may void the original manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. The dealer or installer may be the party who is liable if the aftermarket alteration fails.

Seniors, health care patients and disabled persons are especially vulnerable to fraud and abuse. California lawmakers have enacted strong laws to protect this population from deceptive practices and defective products.

March 16, 2010

Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg Launches New Website

Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg LLP, the host of this California Lemon Law Blog, has just launched a new website with a Q&A section on a variety of consumer protection areas, ongoing consumer alerts, attorney biographies, internet resources, a bibliography and contact links. Check it out here

The firm represents consumers throughout California and has, to date, filed cases in 34 separate California counties. Bryan Kemnitzer, Nancy Barron and Bill Krieg have a combined 99 years experience as trial attorneys fighting to protect consumer rights.

Supported by a dedicated staff, attorneys in the firm have taken individual and class action cases to trial, obtaining verdicts and judgments that include punitive damages and civil penalties. On the other hand, the vast majority of cases settle prior to trial. In settlement, Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg have obtained debt relief exceeding $300 million, as well as thousands of new car replacements and refunds.

As California consumer lawyers, the members of the firm believe that every consumer is entitled to safe and reliable transportation, fair credit, truth in lending, access to the courts and freedom from fraud. All clients have the opportunity to learn more about consumer protection in ways that increase consumer literacy and save money, as well as resolve the particular case at hand.

March 16, 2010

Tire Recalls Remind Us All to Check the Tread

prospector%20tires.JPGSeveral tire recalls went unnoticed last month, with media attention focused on Toyota recalls regarding sudden acceleration. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notices, regularly delivered to my "lemon law" inbox, included manufacturer's voluntary recalls of SUV tires having a tendency to shred or exhibit “chunking,” with potential crash consequences. If you get a tire recall notice, be sure to arrange for your replacement tires without delay. Faulty tires can result in a serious loss of driver control, cause a crash, or leave you stranded. Recalls are expensive for manufacturers, which generally do not offer free parts – including free tires – without good reason.

Tires are like the fingers and toes of the vehicle. You take them for granted until they get injured or broken, and then you realize you can’t do without them. Tire checks are just not high on my personal "to do" list. But last weekend, my 17-year-old son noticed a loss of air in the left rear tire of the family station wagon. In a hurry, I thought of simply filling it with air at the gas station, but closer inspection found a nail embedded in the tread. We all need an occasional reminder to check the tires regularly, not just for nails and shredding, but overall condition and especially the traction surface.

Tire labeling regulations require that a lot of important information appear on the tire itself. tire-drawing-all-labels.jpg This and more information on tire safety is found on the NHTSA website.

In addition to having the tires rotated according to the schedule set out in the owner’s manual, you should periodically check for routine wear and tear. The “life” of a tire varies greatly with the kind of car or truck you drive. While a lightweight compact might enjoy 60,000 miles before needing new tires, a luxury sports car may need new rubber at 30,000 mile intervals.

Whether exercising routine maintenance or shopping for a used car, it is not enough to check for overall tire condition – pay particular attention to uneven wear. The technician will lapse into jargon like “camber” and “toe-in,” but if a simple visual inspection shows any kind of irregular wear pattern, it could be a symptom of more serious issues: alignment problems, steering defects or even frame damage from a prior accident. When buying a used car, the tires can thus be a potent indicator of whether the vehicle has seen previous abuse.

From a lemon law perspective, we look at tire issues as an important part of the vehicle history. Experts find that tire wear can reveal whether other defects have actually been fixed, as the service manager may insist, or are likely to recur over the life of the car.

February 26, 2010

Stopping Sudden Acceleration in Cars and Trucks

Even as Toyota struggles to find the source of sudden acceleration, the U.S. Department of Transportation is offering advice on what do to if sudden acceleration happens while you are driving. Until either the company or federal investigators discover what component is causing the problem, no advice is a sure thing. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has posted the following steps a driver might take to control the vehicle racing out of control.

Actions Consumers Can Take If They Cannot Stop Their Vehicles

Regardless of the cause, if a consumer is experiencing unintended acceleration intheir vehicle, they should take the following steps:
• Brake firmly and steadily – do not pump the brake pedal.
• Shift the transmission into Neutral (for vehicles with automatic transmissions and the sport option, familiarize yourself with where Neutral is – the diagram may be misleading).
• Steer to a safe location.
• Shut the engine off (for vehicles with keyless ignition, familiarize yourself with how to turn the vehicle off when it is moving – this may be a different action than turning the vehicle off when it is stationary).
• Call your dealer or repair shop to pick up the vehicle. Do not drive it.

You can find more information about sudden acceleration and other recalls here.