Record fine for failure to report auto defects shows scope of problem

The road is full of dangers for motorists; challenging weather, distracted drivers, poorly designed roadways. While drivers can take some precautions to avoid these external threats, there is almost nothing a driver can do to protect him- or herself from a very real threat that may be waiting in latency just inches away: vehicle defects.

When you purchase any product in the stream of commerce, you expect it to be safe for its intended use. Sometimes, however, manufacturers and sellers of products shirk their duty to provide safe goods and let hazardous defective products slip into the hands of consumers. Rarely are the stakes higher than when a product defect affects a motor vehicle. For those who are injured by vehicle defects, or for the family members of those who have been killed, compensation may be available from the automaker or the distributor of the automobile.

How common are vehicle defects? One need only look to the headlines to catch a glimpse of the pervasiveness of major safety defects in automobiles. In a recent example, Toyota received the largest government fine ever assessed for failing to report dangerous vehicle defects in a timely fashion.

Millions of vehicles recalled, millions in fines assessed

Toyota has been plagued by safety problems in recent years. The most serious came to light in 2010 when the automaker was slapped with three separate fines - two for $16.375 million and another for $16 million - by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to report issues of " sudden unintended acceleration" in a timely manner. Under federal regulations, car manufacturers are required to notify the NHTSA within five days after discovering a safety defect.

Last December, Toyota was hit with yet another multimillion dollar fine for failing to report safety defects, this one setting a record for the highest government fine ever levied against an automaker. At $17.35 million, this fine was the largest the NHTSA was able to assess under the law at that time (the maximum has since increased to $35 million).

In 2013, the beleaguered automaker continued to struggle with vehicle safety defect issues; in October, Toyota recalled over 1.5 million vehicles due to a host of safety issues, including some vehicles with electrical problems that could cause airbags to fail in the event of a crash. A separate 2013 recall involving nearly a million Toyotas with handling problems had the rare distinction of requiring affected vehicles to be recalled not once, but twice, after the repair implemented to correct the original issue was itself subject to a defect.

An auto defect lawsuit can help you recover compensation and ultimately have more impact than fines

While Toyota has been a glaring example of vehicle defects in the auto industry over the past few years, every major automaker has placed cars in the stream of commerce at some point that had problems that could potentially impact the safety of motorists.

If you were injured in a car accident that may have involved a vehicle safety defect, or if you lost a family member in such an accident, you may be entitled to compensation. In addition to providing you with compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering, such a lawsuit can send a powerful message to automakers; in the aggregate, lawsuits by harmed motorists can amount to far more than the maximum fines the NHTSA can assess. Talk to a vehicle defect attorney today to learn more about your right to compensation and to begin building your case.