Crashing an industry

The SE Texas Record Nov. 22, 2008, 10:13am

If you're wondering why the once mighty U.S. auto industry is in desperation seeking a savior, Tyler's Bill Cooper could prove instructive.

He's suing Volkswagen in a Marshall court, charging the company is responsible for a fatal one car accident because it purposely didn't build a car that was safe.

His daughter, Whitney, was driving a 2002 VW Beetle when she tragically lost control, swerved off the road and crashed. Sound cut and dried? Not exactly. Cooper says the accident could have been prevented had the company fitted all of its cars with "electronic stability control," a feature he claims could have saved Whitney's life.

"Volkswagen defectively designed, manufactured, assembled, tested, marketed, and distributed the vehicle by failing to incorporate electronic stability control as standard equipment," his lawsuit states.

Cooper's lawsuit doesn't identify him as an automotive engineer or a design expert. Yet the suit seems confident pillorying one of the most successful car companies in the world about its product and the alleged incompetence of its engineers.

This is a product he apparently purchased for his daughter to drive. If "electronic stability control" was critical, perhaps it would have been best to have avoided cars that didn't have it.

Perhaps Cooper came late to this revelation. Perhaps someone--maybe a lawyer--saw the potential of suing a big multinational like Volkswagen.

Suing car companies is popular sport among certain trial lawyers in Texas. Automakers are easy targets--car accidents are one of the most common causes of death in the U.S. If you ask many trial lawyers, there's always something the company could have done to make the car safer.

Every new "safety feature" comes with a price, as does every frivolous lawsuit, making cars more expensive for all of us.

Who will we blame for the possible bankruptcy and even demise of some or all of the industry? The fact that automakers know their way around most every courthouse in the country, including ours, didn't help.

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