We all like buying new cars because of the many new features available as standard equipment, which were once only available on much more expensive luxury vehicles. These days you can purchase a Kia Soul with a heated steering wheel for cold Boston winters and air conditioned seats for those hot summer days. One of the more popular features, which is becoming standard equipment on many cars, is key-less entry and ignition. This is where you can keep the key fob in your pocket or purse and as long as it is within a few feet of the vehicle, will allow you to lock or unlock the doors merely by touching the handle and then, once you are safely inside your vehicle, will allow you to push a button and start the vehicle. In many cases, you will need to also step on the brake pedal, but you will not need to physically put the key in the ignition to start your car.
Likewise, when you have parked your vehicle, and the vehicle is no longer in a forward or reverse gear, you can simply push the on/off button again and your car will turn off the engine. This is a great feature, but it can, and has, led to many cases of serious injury and deaths.
Key-Less Vehicle Injuries in Boston and Across the Nation
The reason this is so dangerous is because many people will park their car in a garage and then go into the house through a door in their garage. It is also common for people to either hang keys on a hook by the door or place them on a table. Since it is a somewhat new concept of using key-less ignition, many people will leave the car running. If you were to do this outside it would continue to run your engine and waste gas, possibly to the point of running out of gas, but there would not be a risk of poisoning.
However, as our Boston defective vehicle injury lawyers note, if you are parked in a garage attached to your home, you run a very high risk of deadly carbon monoxide gas filling the garage and then seeping into your home where you and your entire family will be at risk.
According to a recent news article from CNN Money, the New York Times has reported there have been more than two dozen deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning as result of people leaving their key-less cars running when then parked. These deaths have occurred since 2006 and there have been a total of 28 deaths, as well as 45 more who suffered personal injury resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Efforts to Prevent Key-Less Vehicle Injuries
There have been several efforts over the years to prevent these types of injuries in key-less vehicles. One major vehicle safety advocacy group proposed automakers should be required to put warning measures on these vehicles including beeps or flashing lights if someone attempts to leave a vehicle running when exiting. There is also the possibility of some type of weight sensor in the driver’s seat, like there is in the front passenger seat, to let the vehicle know if it should disable the front airbag for a small child. However, the auto industry was not willing to comply with this recommendation so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stepped in and proposed a rule implementing much needed safety systems. Unfortunately, the auto industries once again showed resistance and NHTSA never implemented any requirement binding on auto manufactures.
Implied Warranty of Merchantability
There is little question people like key-less ignition systems in their cars, as it is very convenient. When you go to a dealer, they show this feature and show how it works. When a person buys one of these vehicles and uses it, they are using it for the purpose in which it was intended. If they are injured in a foreseeable manner, a defendant may be held liable for the manufacture of a defective product. The implied warranty of merchantability from the Uniform Consumer Code (U.C.C.) as adopted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, requires products to be fit for their ordinary purpose. While there is no question the system works, if it kills someone using it in an expected manner, there is a serious question as to whether it is merchantable.
Failure to Adequately Warn of Known Danger
Certain products are simply dangerous to some extent. Even if they do what they are supposed to do, there are still some risks associated. Airbags are a good example. It is possible you will be injured by an airbag, including a sternum or “buckle” fracture, but this is much better than being thrown through the front windshield of your vehicle. There are serious concerns about putting a child in the front seat, and this is why there are weight sensors. It is also why there are so many warnings in your vehicle. There is a paper tag which must be removed by the driver usually on the glove compartment door, and there are the permanent warnings attached to the sun visors.
In the case of a key-less ignition system, even if the company is not willing to put in that safety system, and NHTSA is not willing to force them to do so, at the very least, they could adequately warn a user of the known danger by placing similar warnings. Failure to do this might expose them to liability under a failure to warn of a known danger theory of products liability. It should also be noted that saying we are doing the same as everyone else in the industry is not an absolute defense to a products liability action. This might be the case if they had no idea about a risk, but where there have been dozens of deaths and nearly 50 reported injuries due to carbon monoxide poisoning, this would be a difficult argument to credibly make.
If you are the victim of Massachusetts product liability, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
NYT: More than 2 dozen people killed by carbon monoxide after leaving on their keyless cars, May 14, 2018, By Jackie Wattles, CNN Money
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