Does Chrysler’s Quick Recall of Ram Trucks Mean More Manufacturer Responsibility?

In June, one month after issuing its recall, 2017 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles began the program affecting 1.25 million of its Dodge Ram pickups to correct a software error that may have been linked to reports of one crash death and two injuries. The erroneous code could temporarily disable the vehicles’ side air bag and deployment of seat belt pretensioners – which firmly secure passengers in a crash. The error was detected during possible vehicle rollovers resulting from an underbody impact, such as striking debris in the road or driving off-road. The recall involves reprogramming of computer modules to eliminate the error. This is not the first system-related issue faced by an auto manufacturer.  During the past several years, GM recalled hundreds of thousands of its vehicles to replace faulty ignition switches in steering columns. Toyota has been locked in a multimillion-dollar multi-district defective product lawsuit over unexplained acceleration of some of its vehicles that took place between 2007 and 2012. And though the automaker cited “sticky” accelerators and “shifting” floor mats in its recall, it still can’t completely shake allegations that some of its computerized driving systems may have caused several injuries and at least two deaths due to “unintended acceleration” accidents. The company still denies the charges. And so far, plaintiff attorneys have yet to find a definitive “smoking gun.”

More Apps, Greater Dangers that Hackers can Control Your Vehicle

With vehicle software and processors multiplying, and as vehicle networking continues to proliferate, they are becoming “targets of opportunity” for sophisticated hackers. In March 2016, the FBI issued a warning to automakers and consumers to “maintain awareness of potential issues and cyber security threats related to connected vehicle technologies in modern vehicles.”  Shortly thereafter, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its guidelines to ensure that automakers will design cars that are safe – even when hacked – in order for drivers to control a car after a successful cyber attack. According to experts, one of the more popular ways for hackers and ransomware thieves to compromise a vehicle’s automated operation and safety systems is via apps in their infotainment system that connect to the internet.  Another – and easier – route is through unsecure smartphone apps that are used to control access to your car, or other non-vital features, through your smartphone. These experts also note that Android-type phones are most susceptible to such attacks, even though Apple’s IOS presents a smaller number of risky vulnerabilities. Either way, consumers are tricked into downloading apps – or updates – that look real, but are really malware, just like clicking on a phishing link in an email. When they begin to use the phony app, or the update installs, the malware initializes, infecting targeted systems which can then be controlled by an invading hacker.

How Does This New Breed of System Contamination Affect Defective Product Lawsuits?

First, it is difficult to prove a system was defectively created if subsequent updates exploit unknown vulnerabilities after the product or system was developed. But the company’s response after it is aware of the flaw matters. So the question of “what the manufacturer knew and when they knew it” is the predominant issue.  The fact that Fiat Chrysler got in front of its Ram truck recall in a month – which is a very short time – before a lot of accidents happened, speaks volumes about how important the “what they knew and when” issue is. Many automakers, which have historically been slow to respond to recalls in the past few years, are learning that an ounce of (recall) prevention is worth a pound of cure (lower legal liability).  And that makes for what will hopefully be a generation of safer cars, with much fewer injuries and wrongful deaths. If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, contact a Kentucky defective products attorney at the Johnson Law Firm using our online form, or call us at 606-433-6802.

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