Not long ago cars were death traps. Then Ralph Nader, a trial lawyer, wrote a best seller called, “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile“, published in 1965. The book detailed the resistance of the auto industry to investing in safety features, such as seat belts.
Then great trial lawyers brought a slew of products liability lawsuits against the auto manufacturers. The automobile industry responded by designing safer cars, featuring seat belts and then airbags, to avoid shelling out millions to mangled auto crash victims.
But the auto industry kept getting sued because lawyers kept arguing the vehicles could be made still safer, which spurred a leap-frogging of safer and safer designs. As a result, we now have side air bags, crash-resistant chassis, seat belt alarms, anti-lock brakes, etc.
Even in our modest little Central New York personal injury law firm, we have seen the investment returns on the auto industry’s safer designs. We often marvel at how our clients walk away from mangled, squashed, twisted and bent vehicles whereas they would have been carried out, face shrouded, just a decade or so ago.
Yes, you can thank us personal injury lawyers for all these safety advances. If the auto industry could have managed a “hit and run”, they would have driven away for all the human carnage they were unnecessarily causing. But we made them pay for it. Which made them think of ways of avoiding paying. Which made them improve safety.
And here’s what’s really interesting: The “end of history” of the auto safety evolution may be near. The ultimate goal, a perfectly safe car, may be just around the corner. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this recent New York Times article and also watch this amazing video showing an”automated car” in action . It drives itself, automatically, avoiding obstacles, pedestrians, bicycles, etc., by using incredibly sophisticated sensors. The sensors also react perfectly to stop signs, red lights, construction zones, etc. The car drives on its own, without human input, and it drives perfectly.
Yes, this amazing technology appears poised to usher in an auto-accident-free world. This is as breathtaking as the discovery of a cure to cancer. And as marvelous.
Only one problem with all this. As marvelous as it is, it also means a significant amount of my “business” will disappear. Motor vehicle accidents represent about 20% of my case load.
There is some poetic justice in this. The auto industry for years claimed that New York personal injury and product liability lawyers like me would put them out of business with our lawsuits. But now their safety improvements, spurred by our lawsuits, may put us out of business.
I am not complaining. Like everyone else who hasn’t been living under a rock, I have friends and relatives who have died or been seriously injured in car accidents. I have 5 children who drive or will be driving soon. I want them safe and I want their children’s children safe.
If I never see another car accident case, and I have to shut my doors, I promise you I will say these words with a grateful smile: “Will you take fries with that . . . .?”
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!