Settlement in BTSI Manufacturer’s Defect Case

There are many reasons you should never leave young children, toddlers, or infants in the car alone.  The most obvious reasons are that they can be kidnapped, they can suffocate if the car is not running, they can choke on something, and many other strange things can occur.  The accident that occurred when these two toddlers were left alone in the car is so horrific and could have been prevented.

A woman drove her SUV to make a payment at her insurance company’s office. All the paperwork was ready, awaiting her payment at the front desk. She parked by the front door, leaving her 6-month-old baby and her 2-year-old niece buckled in their car seats while she dropped off her payment. When she walked back outside to her SUV, she found her 2-year-old niece standing in the driver’s seat. When the little girl turned to go to the back seat, suddenly the SUV leaped forward, pinning the woman against the insurance company’s building. Due to the crushing injuries, her left leg required amputation above the knee, and her right leg developed lymphedema (a chronic, serious swelling).

An engineering expert discovered that the SUV was equipped with a safety device known as a brake transmission shift interlock (BTSI). The purpose of the BTSI is to prevent the gear shift lever from being moved out of park into gear, without the driver having to step on the brake pedal.

Unfortunately, it was discovered that the BTSI in the victim’s SUV suffered from a design defect that sometimes prevented it from operating properly.  On occasion, when the operator shifted the SUV into park, the BTSI failed to lock the shift lever in park. This resulted in the gear shift lever being moved from park into gear, without requiring that the operator step on the brake first.

On the day of this tragic accident, the defective BTSI allowed the victim’s niece to inadvertently move the shift lever into a forward gear.  This is obviously a very dangerous defect for which safer alternative designs should have prevented this from ever taking place.

The case was settled on the eve of the trial, the amount of which is confidential.

In 2006 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked automakers to add BTSI systems to all new models in the U.S. with automatic transmissions. No matter what position the key is in, the driver must have a foot on the brake when shifting the car out of park, which would have prevented this accident. BTSI systems have since been included in approximately 80% of cars made since 2006.

It is such a travesty that the victim’s BTSI was defective. The very purpose of having the BTSI installed in automobiles is to prevent exactly what happened here. In this case, it proved defective, causing permanent impairment to this young mother. Is this justice?

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