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The runaway Toyotas remind me of the exploding Pintos and both underscore the role of juries as guardians of public safety. I recall in the late 70’s when it was revealed that the design of the Ford Pinto caused the gas tank to rupture from a rear end collision at speeds of 25 miles per hour. The cost of correcting the problem was estimate at $11 per car but Ford calculated that it would be cheaper to litigate with those injured and killed than to correct the unsafe design. The Pinto became known as “the barbeque that seats four” and Ford paid many millions in damages to those whose lives it had taken or ruined.

Bloomberg News reports, based upon Toyota’s recent filings with National Highway Safety Administration, that Toyota knew 3 and ½ years before the recall that design flaws could cause “unintended acceleration”. “Unintended acceleration” – apparently a synonym for a runaway vehicle – not only threatens those in the Toyota but also risks the lives of any hapless person in harm’s way.

One duty of jurors in the United States is to protect society by making disregard for human life cost prohibitive. I trust our juries will teach Toyota this lesson.

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