In a New York product liability case, the jury recently awarded $8.75 Million to a pedestrian whose leg was crushed, and later amputated, when he was hit by a 1987 Volvo 740 wagon. The car did not have a “clutch starter safety switch”, which requires the clutch to be pressed all the way down before the standard transmission car can be started. This safety device prevents a driver from accidentally starting the vehicle while in gear, thus causing the car to lurch forward, which is exactly what happened in this case. Volvo did not start installing these devices in its vehicles until the year 2000. One of the representatives for Volvo admitted, under oath, that the safety switch was available back in 1987, but that the company had declined to install it on cars sold in the U.S. In finding Volvo liable for this decision, the jury considered the fact that the safety device would have cost Volvo only $5 to install. This large New York defective product award includes compensation for medical expenses, lost earnings, and past and future pain and suffering.
This case demonstrates an important principle of product liability law: Whether a product is deemed “defective” often depends on whether a safer design existed at the time of its manufacture. If the safer design would have been relatively cheap to implement, when balanced against the dangers of not implementing it, a jury will often find that the manufacturer’s product was defectively designed, which means that it was UNREASONABLY dangerous. Sure, all cars are SOMEWHAT dangerous; they are heavy machines designed for travel at fast speeds. But why make them more dangerous than they have to be? That is the whole purpose of product liability law; to hold manufacturers responsible for the harm they cause when they produce products that are more dangerous than they need to be. This jury, and juries like them, help make the world a safer place for all of us. Volvo and other manufacturers will think twice the next time they decide whether to omit a safety device that would cost them only $5 per car to install.