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GM settles rollover case

December 14, 2004 - Detroit Free Press - General Motors Corp. agreed to settle a lawsuit that claimed the roof of its Astro minivan was defective and caused the death of a retired history professor in a 1999 rollover accident, during jury deliberations in the case.

Lawyers for the family of Binling Duan claimed during a trial in Los Angeles that poor design of the 1999 Chevrolet Astro made the vehicle tip over, and the roof wasn't strong enough to withstand a rollover. Duan, who was 63 at the time, suffered brain injuries and didn't regain consciousness before he died two years later.

GM settled the suit for an undisclosed amount Friday, after a Los Angeles jury finished deliberations for the day, said Duan family lawyer Garo Mardirossian.

The case was one of several claiming inadequate roof strength in sport-utility vehicles and light trucks increases the risk of injury in rollovers. GM won a similar roof-crush suit in Texas last week.

Woman Walks Away From Accident After SUV Flips Into Water
Police Suspect Speed Caused Accident

HOUSTON - March 11, 2005 - Speed might have caused a crash in Baytown that landed a woman in a hospital, deputies told Local 2.

Accident investigators said the woman was heading west on Wallisville Road at about 1 a.m. when she lost control of her sport utility vehicle and drove into a ditch. The SUV hit some trees before it flipped over, upside down, into water.

"She was able to get out of the vehicle on her own. She was walking down the roadway, trying to get help. A couple of people called and we were able to locate her and bring her back to the scene," Harris County Constable Precinct 3 Lt. Teri Ganey said.

A helicopter transported the woman to Memorial Hermann Hospital in stable condition with a head injury.

OCS students urged to avoid brain, spinal cord injuries by thinking first

03/10/2005 - The pictures on the screen showed a smiling Chad Thomas and his mother, also smiling, in Chad's room at the Craig Institute in Denver. Monday the Spirit Lake native looked students at Ocheyedan's Christian School in the eye and told them, "Those smiles are misleading. They were hiding a lot of physical and mental pain as I learned how to live in a chair."

Thomas and Angie Holman, representatives of Think First, a national injury prevention foundation based in Waterloo, visited OCS to talk with students about ways to reduce their risk of suffering a brain or spinal cord injury. "One bad decision changed my life forever," Thomas told the students.

Thomas talked about that day in July, 1998, that changed his life. After working all day, Thomas got into his parents' Ford Explorer and on the way home fell asleep at the wheel. The vehicle crossed the center line and entered the opposite ditch. He hit a field entrance and flew more than half the length of a football field. In addition to suffering numerous cuts and broken bones, he also suffered a spinal cord injury at the T10 vertebrae. He was slammed into the arm rest which severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the navel down.

"It takes two and one-half seconds to put on a seat belt and I didn't do it," he stated. In addition to talking about his recovery at Craig and his life since the accident, Thomas and Holman also talked to students about simple strategies for reducing their risk of injuries.

Holman told the students, "We have five tips for helping you to keep safe. Always wear your seat belt, drive chemical free and don't ride with people who are under the influence, avoid violence, always wear a helmet (when biking, roller blading, motorcycling, etc.) and check water levels daily before diving in head first."
The duo told the students that approximately 600 people in Iowa will become paralyzed from a spinal cord injury every year. Another 5,000 will suffer traumatic brain injuries.

According to information provided by "Think First", automobiles, motorcycles and diving injuries are the major causes and half of those will happen to young people between the ages of 15-24.

Those injuries incur major expenses. Thomas told the students that his hospitalization, which lasted about a week longer than three months, cost insurance companies approximately $280,000. There are also continuing costs such as for medications, supplies and wheelchairs. Those, however, do not include the mental and emotional costs.

Thomas drew laughs by telling the students, "When I was in school, classes started at 8:17. I could get up at 8:00, get ready and get to school two minutes early. Now it takes me 15 minutes just to put on my pants and shoes and almost two hours to get ready to go out."

While Thomas talked freely about the negative aspects of living in a wheelchair, he admitted it's not all bad. "It has taken a long time to get where I am today but I wouldn't trade my life for the world. I've learned a lot about life and myself and I've learned who my friends really are," he said.

Recalls leave Toyota at 'tipping point'

Sean M. Wood
Express-News Business Writer

08/19/2006 - Toyota's vaunted reputation for quality has taken a pounding lately. More than 2 million of the Japanese automaker's vehicles have been recalled worldwide, and there are still four full months to go in the year.

Some analysts say Toyota will be able to shrug off the quality questions thanks to decades spent building its reputation for reliability. Others say Toyota is on the cusp of falling into a funk that could be hard to fight off.

"It's gonna be interesting to see what's going to happen in the next six months," said Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of automotive Web site Edmunds.com. "They are right at that tipping point."

"We're definitely very serious about customer satisfaction and quality," said Toyota Motor Sales spokesman Bill Kwong. Toyota has instituted all the recalls that have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The administration reports that more than 627,000 Toyotas have been recalled this year in the United States, including the highly popular Lexus RX sport utility vehicle and Toyota Prius hybrid.

Yet Lexus was the top brand for dependability in J.D. Power and Associates' annual study of vehicle dependability. Toyota also improved one spot to fifth from sixth on last year's study.

Toyota's problems per 100 vehicles fell from 196 in 2005 to 179 in 2006. The industry average this year was 227.

"(Toyota) has an incredible reputation for quality that they've earned," said Catherine Madden, senior analyst for Global Insight, a forecasting company. "It's something that doesn't dissipate in a day."

The questions about Toyota's reputation have become more frequent as the company has been defending itself through spring and summer.

It all started in the spring, with a sexual harassment scandal in the company's North American headquarters. A $190 million lawsuit has since been settled. Then law enforcement officials in Japan were investigating whether Toyota had turned a blind eye to quality issues when one of their vehicles was involved in an accident involving serious injury.

Add to that nearly 400,000 recalled Highlanders and Lexus SUVs and more than 170,000 recalled Prius hybrids, and the summer just gets longer.

Still, Toyota is having a better year this year than it did in 2005, according to figures from NHTSA.

In 2005, Toyota had 12 recalls of more than 2 million vehicles. One of those involved nearly a million vehicles built as far back as 1989. But a recall of more than 768,000 involved trucks and SUVs no older than 3 years.

Brauer, of Edmunds.com, said it's understandable to have older vehicles show up in a recall. Every automaker has something that turns up over time. New vehicles having problems are tougher to explain away, he said.

Toyota's mercurial growth may be contributing to some of the recent recalls, said Global Insight's Madden.

"Toyota, just like any company, has created a manufacturing system that is set up to eliminate any and all quality issues due to its structuring," she said. "But no one is immune (from mistakes). The faster you're trying to grow, the more you're increasing the chances (for mistakes) by the volume you're producing. I don't think anyone is immune to a quality issue."

Toyota is rapidly expanding its manufacturing footprint, especially in North America. The company has 12 manufacturing plants in North America and is building two more: one here on the city's South Side and one in Canada. It will also start building Camrys at Subaru of Indiana Automotive next spring.

By 2008, Toyota will have the capacity to build nearly 2 million vehicles, 1.44 million engines and 600,000 automatic transmissions.

That kind of capacity leaves plenty of room for error.

Brauer said Toyota's saving grace has been its ability to get out ahead of most of its problems before someone gets seriously hurt or killed.

"Toyota is pretty good about recalling before, versus after the bomb goes off," he said, alluding to Ford's Firestone tire debacle of a few years ago. "Toyota is very conservative. They'll jump out ahead of these things instead of waiting too late. A pre-emptory recall is much better than a cleanup."

Ronnie Bernal, general manager of Red McCombs Toyota, has seen his service department busy of late, dealing with recalls and service bulletins.

"We don't like seeing it in terms of inconvenience for our customers," Bernal said. "But Toyota's communication with the consumers is phenomenal."

He said he has yet to hear from any customers concerned with Toyota's recent spate of problems. Surveys have come back with positive feedback.

Bill Alderman of Fairview in North Texas said he doesn't think Toyota will be affected much by these recalls. He's posted his opinions on the message boards of Edmunds.com.

"You don't learn from what you do right, you learn from what you do wrong," Alderman said. "Thank God for recalls. They're there to protect the public."

Alderman has owned several Lexuses and is currently driving a Toyota Camry loaner vehicle.

Ray Tyson, a spokesman for NHTSA, said there is no pattern when it comes to recalls. But he said more and more recalls are coming from the manufacturers as opposed to his agency, thanks to new reporting procedures that have been in effect for several years.

"They have been required by law to submit quarterly reports of warranty claims," Tyson said. "Since they have had to supply that data to us, they've become much more sensitized to studying those claims. It has increased the number of voluntary recalls, and they spend more time looking at trends."


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