We represented a 15-year old girl and her family who were involved in a horrific accident while driving through Wise County, Texas. The young woman, nearing completion of her driver’s education requirements, was in the driver’s seat of her family’s 2005 Suburban. At some point in their drive, the SUV drifted off the road. The young woman overcorrected, and the vehicle spun out before rolling over. The accident left members of her family injured and her father paralyzed.
Our investigation found that the Suburban was not equipped with Electronic Stability Control, which is designed to prevent exactly this type of accident. As a matter of fact, ESC has been called the biggest breakthrough in vehicle safety since seatbelts. Innovations such as this make roads safer for everyone and help prevent others from experiencing the same heartbreak as the victims. General Motors, which produces the Suburban, originally wanted ESC to be included in its 2003 vehicles, but the system was deemed too expensive, and they chose to push the upgrade to 2006 instead. GM later rolled the system out ahead of schedule – two months, in fact, after the victims’ Suburban was produced – after learning that they had been dropped from Consumer Reports’ list of best buys. Only after realizing the amount of money it stood to lose, GM quickly found religion and reversed course.
As we examined the scene of the accident, we discovered something else. Jagoe-Public, a contractor hired by the Texas Department of Transportation to work on local highways, had failed to install blocks of sod off the side of the road, which are designed to help prevent drop-offs.
The information we gathered over the course of our investigation was clear. GM’s original decision to exclude ESC systems from its vehicles until 2006 and its speedy about-face on the issue was motivated not by the safety of its customers, but by its bottom line. Further, Jagoe-Public had failed to follow proper rules and procedures by not reporting that it didn’t install the sod blocks off the highway, taking it out of compliance with the original job order. Our client’s accident was completely preventable, and fault in the matter was clear. We were prepared to present our findings in court and were confident that a jury would see things as we did.
Both GM and Jagoe must have agreed, because both companies agreed to settle the case before we ever set foot inside a courtroom. It’s unfortunate that consumers are forced to pay premium prices for basic safety features. But we’re hopeful that this case and others like it will force auto manufacturers to change the way they do business.