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Small research group was first to notice Volkswagen fraud

Posted on Monday, September 28th, 2015   

Last week, one of the biggest scandals in automotive history became public after Volkswagen admitted to installing illegal software in their vehicles in order to cheat emission tests.  The scandal affects nearly 11 million vehicles worldwide, nearly 500,000 in the U.S. alone, and has raised 30 class action lawsuits against the company.  However, many are unaware of how this scandal came to light.

In 2012, in order to perform emission tests on clean diesel vehicles, a research group at West Virginia University received a $50,000 grant from the International Council on Clean Transportation.  When the research team started testing Volkswagen vehicles, the emissions levels were off by up to 35 times the expected amounts.  When the data was made public a year and a half ago, many began to raise questions, including the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

CARB and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began discussions with Volkswagen to uncover why there were such massive discrepancies, with VW first claiming technical issues were to blame.  Only after the EPA threatened to not approve VW’s clean diesel cars for sale in 2016 did the company finally admit to deliberate cheating.  As the scandal continues to develop, VW’s stock continues to plummet and the future of their clean diesel vehicles is unclear.

Ignition defect verdict against GM raises concerns

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2015   

After failure to relay important safety information regarding faulty ignition switches in their vehicles, an act that cost 124 individuals their lives, GM was issued a $900 million fine last week as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. While many believed the fine was too small, there was hope that individual company employees would also face criminal charges for their complicity in the concealment of this dangerous defect.  However, no company officials who were involved in the scheme have been charged and, additionally, if GM complies with the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, all criminal charges against the company will be dropped.

Many are outraged that the company is not being forced to plead guilty and is paying a relatively small amount in relation to how many lives were lost. As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, GM admitted to knowing as early as 2004 about the faulty ignition switches but did nothing to recall any affected vehicles. Many are criticizing the Justice Department for the decision in this case specifically, as well as the broader implications it has about using deferred prosecution and nonprosecution agreements in lieu of criminal convictions in instances of corporate crime.

VW ordered to recall diesel vehicles by E.P.A.

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2015   

Volkswagen was issued a directive by the Obama administration on Friday to recall close to a half-million of its vehicles. This comes after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation over an accusation that the company illegally installed a so-called “defeat device” in its 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles. These devices are believed to have been installed in diesel vehicles dating back to 2009.

According to The New York Times, officials with the E.P.A. have reported that the German automaker has admitted to the installation of defeat devices in its vehicles and it will be cooperating with the investigation. Since the E.P.A. ordered Volkswagen to recall its vehicles, the company’s chief executive has publicly apologized for breaking the trust of customers and the public at large. The case against Volkswagen will be jointly investigated by the Justice Department, the E.P.A., and the state of California.

Defeat devices installed in the Volkswagen and Audi vehicles were intended to conceal the emissions levels of the nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that directly contributes to smog and ozone creation. When installed, these defeat devices can detect official emissions testing equipment so the vehicles’ complete emission control systems will be activated for the duration of the test. Under normal circumstances, the controls systems are switched off and the vehicle may release pollutants at more than 40 times the legal maximums as set by the Clean Air Act.

The E.P.A.’s notice of violation is indicative of a broader shift in policy toward a more proactive regulation of the automotive industry. Bearing that in mind, this move against Volkswagen may be interpreted as a stern message to other automakers about the kind of treatment they can expect if they willfully disregard federal regulations..


Prosecutors settle with GM over ignition defect

Posted on Thursday, September 17th, 2015   

The criminal investigation into General Motor’s handling of faulty ignition switches was settled today, after federal prosecutors accused GM of not disclosing a serious safety defect in some of its ignition switches that has been associated with at least 124 deaths.

Though some executives with GM expected that the penalty would exceed the record $1.2 billion penalty paid by Toyota for its own concealment of a serious defect, federal prosecutors will only be imposing a $900 million dollar penalty on General Motors. As part of the deal, GM also had to admit that it failed to disclose important information about a potentially deadly defect with ignitions in certain vehicles. It is still unclear as to whether prosecutors will be pressing any charges against individual employees with GM.

As long as GM complies with the terms announced today for the next three years, the company will have the two criminal charges against them dismissed. Those criminal charges include charges of wire fraud and “scheming to conceal material facts from a government regulator.”

Fiat Chrysler issues recall of Ram 1500 Quad Cab truck

Posted on Friday, September 11th, 2015   

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Fiat Chrysler is issuing a recall of nearly 1.7 million Ram trucks.

Accounting for about 188,000 of the vehicles recalled in this announcement are 2014 – 2015 Ram 1500 Quad Cab pickup trucks that reportedly have an issue that may prevent the side curtain airbags from adequately overlapping the C-pillars in the event of a collision. This issue represents a failure on Fiat Chrysler’s behalf to meet federal regulations to “reduce the risk of rear-occupant ejection during a rollover crash,” according to the NHTSA report. While there have been no reported incidents related to the issue, its presence raises the risk of injury to backseat passengers.

The auto maker reminded owners that “All FCA US vehicles are equipped with electronic stability control, which reduces the risk of rollovers” on their website; however the statement also reminds drivers and passengers to always wear their seatbelts.

As the recall is still under development and not yet official, owners must wait to schedule service appointments for their affected vehicles. For more information, contact Fiat Chrysler’s customer service at 1-800-853-1403.

If you have been injured in a collision caused by a defect in your vehicle, contact the attorneys at Pohl & Berk, LLP, to let us help you fight for compensation for your unnecessary suffering.

Goodyear facing major penalties for deceptive court practices in faulty tire cases

Posted on Friday, September 4th, 2015   

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company is facing severe legal punishment after engaging in deceptive legal practices and attempting to conceal evidence of a defect and the resulting damage for at least a decade. The company has been involved in dozens of lawsuits over tread separations and blow outs with their G-159 tires. Court records accuse the company of failure to accurately report every death and injury related to the tire to federal safety officials, despite the fact that the particular tire was the subject of over 40 lawsuits at one time.

One federal court judge ruled that Goodyear lawyers withheld evidence, misled courts, and sought to seal documents in an effort to keep the G-159 defect a secret. A few tenacious lawyers representing the victims in some of these lawsuits have finally been able to obtain certain information and shed a great deal of light on Goodyear’s legal tactics.

In one such case in which the Haeger family sought compensation after a blowout caused their recreational vehicle to wreck, court documents allege that Goodyear was aware of the G-159’s incompatibility with motor homes, yet “made no subsequent effort to warn users about the liability … made no effort to inform the government what Goodyear knew … and made no effort to otherwise recall the tire or provide any post-sale warning.” They go on to assert that the company adopted a strategy in which individual claims were dealt with one at a time and any critical or pertinent information revealed during those cases would be concealed, regardless of the fact that the information they sought to hide could have prevented future deaths and injuries due to tread separation on the G-159.

In her ruling on the Heager case, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver of Arizona found Goodyear guilty of deception and “serious discovery misconduct,” and ordered the company to pay over $2.7 million in sanctions for fraud. Silver also ordered the company to include a copy of her ruling in every G-159 civil case nationwide. Though Goodyear is seeking appeals, a tribunal of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Silver’s decision.

Owners of motor homes that are not used frequently may still have defective tires if they have not been changed recently. If you own a motor home with G159 275/70 22.5 tires, it is in your best interest to replace them right away.

NHTSA Official Revises Takata Airbag Estimate

Posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015   

Earlier this summer, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark R. Rosekind, announced that around 30 million cars would need to be recalled to replace an estimated 34 million Takata airbags. According to a report by The New York Times, that number has been revised down to around 19.2 million vehicles and 23.4 million defective airbag inflators by another official with the NHTSA who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Though this new estimate eliminates more than 10 million vehicles—some cars and trucks were reportedly double-counted in the earlier estimate that also included vehicles outside of the United States—there is still considerable work that will need to be done. As of now, only around 4.4 million Takata airbag inflators have been replaced and an estimated 19 million more still need to be replaced.

Rosekind told reporters that the NHTSA would be outlining new steps in the agency’s recall process in a public meeting sometime this fall. For the time being, we know that the agency is concerned with the rate of recall and that it will be directing specific attention to vehicles in the southern parts of the U.S. There is no official timetable for the completion of the recall.

Nashville Christian football player dies in car accident

Posted on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015   

A football player from Nashville Christian School in Tennessee lost his life in a car accident on Thursday, July 30 just outside of Joelton.

Nashville Christian football coach Jeff Brothers said the victim, identified as Mickey Martin, was nearly home – “literally 45 seconds from home” – according to his coach, when his vehicle veered off the roadway and crashed into a tree. Brothers believed Martin had fallen asleep behind the wheel. Martin died on impact.

Two teammates of Martin’s had been inside the vehicle at the time of the incident – Brant Lawless and Mareio McGraw. Lawless sustained non-life-threatening injuries while McGraw may require more recovery time, according to staff at the local hospital where the two were held.

The team at Pohl & Berk, LLP extend our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victim of this tragedy during this very difficult time.

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