You might have heard about one of the biggest recalls in the history of the auto industry: 30 million General Motors cars were taken off the roads when Lance Cooper, a 56-year-old attorney, found out about faulty ignition switches in their vehicles. Before those vehicles were removed from the streets, at least 124 people died because of the defect.
What you might find most disconcerting about the news, however, is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t know anything about it.
Cooper discussed the problem with the Free Press: “Frankly, I’m skeptical of government bureaucracies.”
And who can blame him? The government might do the best it can, but people are still dying because the “best it can” isn’t good enough. 29 million vehicles were recalled in 2018 by order of the NHTSA, but Cooper fears there might be many more cars out there with similarly faulty mechanisms to the GM fiasco.
“The best way to hold automakers accountable is through the civil justice system,” Cooper said, propping up the legal work his firm does to protect consumers. He might be onto something. In the 1970s, exploding gas tanks killed up to 180 people by some estimates. Lawyers were the ones to hold Ford accountable for the deaths. And barely fifteen years ago, a Firestone tire defect killed hundreds.
One of those killed by the exploding tires was a 14-year-old girl, whose parents filed a lawsuit using the services of a lawyer named Randy Roberts. Once again, lawyers got to the bottom of it. The vehicle the girl’s parents had been driving lost the tread of its left-rear tire, which resulted in the vehicle flipping and rolling. Roberts subpoenaed Firestone and won the documents he needed to prove wrongdoing.
While Roberts was on the Firestone case, so were others. Roberts found them, collaborated with them, and it was that collaboration that led to the massive Firestone recall — also by order of the NHTSA.
Cooper said, “Toyota’s unintended acceleration, it wasn’t NHTSA that uncovered that — it was trial lawyers who used the civil justice system to uncover corporate malfeasance.”
And it’s through such service that Cooper wants to reduce the stigma against lawyers, who people sometimes see as greedy parasites who are out for themselves and no one else. It’s not always true. Some lawyers simply want to defend those who don’t know the law well enough to defend themselves, or those who can’t afford to take the chance.