By on November 7, 2010

Toyota’s legal problems are piling up. It is now being alleged that they killed a lawyer. The New York Daily News reports that 79-year-old lawyer Ernest Codelia Jr died of carbon monoxide poisoning and his partner, Mary Rivera was brain damaged. And their Lexus is being blamed. How come?

On February the 27th of 2009, Mary Rivera parked their Lexus in the ground floor garage attached to their home. Accidentally, she left the engine running. The next day, family members went to their home to find that Mary was unconscious on the bedroom floor and her partner, Ernest in bed, dead. An autopsy showed that Mr Codelia Jr’s blood was filled with carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that every home should have a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm. Apparently, the carbon monoxide invaded the bedroom. Miss Rivera survived but now cannot walk and speaks with difficulty. Now while this is rather sad, what has this got to do with Toyota getting sued? What did they do wrong?

Lawyer Noel Kushlefsky has filed a wrongful death suit in Brooklyn Federal Court against Toyota, the makers of Lexus cars. The suit claims that the keyless ignition feature violates federal safety standards because the engine can continue to run indefinitely even after the driver walks away with key fob that communicates with the car. Mr Kushlefsky accuses Toyota of failing to install a safety switch. A switch could turn the ignition off if the car had been idle for a while or unoccupied for a period of time. ”It creates certain safety risks that did not exist with conventional key technology,” the suit says.

“This is a cool little bell-and-whistle to sell cars, but they have to address problems that have sprouted up,” said Mr Kushlefsky. The lawyer met with the NHTSA, and the agency is assessing keyless ignition systems and is aware of “some potential safety issues”.

Although conjecture, the article suggests that because the couple had the car for a short while, they may have been unfamiliar with the technology. Also, because the engine runs so quietly, Miss Rivera may not have realized that it was still running.

Lexus hasn’t commented on the issue. The suit has been filed. A similar case is reported from Florida. As the picture illustrates, our homes are full of carbon monoxide dangers. A running car in the garage is only one of them.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

101 Comments on “Killer Keyless Ignition?...”


  • avatar
    John R

    First, this situation is sad. That being said, if the conjecture is correct, this sounds like blaming Kenmore for a house fire because the owner was unfamiliar with all subtle intricacies of how the new oven worked.

    There’s got to be some level of personal responsibility here. The car wasn’t foisted upon them, they bought it. I’m sure the manual for the (I’m taking a wild guess here) Lexus ES goes into a suitable amount of detail on how the push button start works…I’m guessing the couple didn’t read the manual.

    This, to me, is just another case of the unfathomable (again, to me) phenomenon of people really taking an effort not to learn how their second most expensive purchase (most of the time, some people are fortunate enough to buy Cessnas) operates. Unfortunately, this time, with terrible results.

    • 0 avatar
      Some Guy

      It’s not a matter of learning how their car operates to prevent an accident.
      I’m sure the owners of the Lexus knew that a car engine idling in their garage is dangerious. But the owners didn’t know that is was running. My garage door opening is a fob on my keychain, and I often open up my garage door when I bend over to pick something up and something presses the door open button.
      It seems to make sense to have a engine shut off feature for when an engine was turned on by mistake. Sort of how if my brother unlocks his car with his keyless entry, and no door is opened within 30 seonds or so, it automatically re-locks the doors. Simple to implement, and makes sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Some guy – This isn’t a remote start.  There is no button on the fob that starts the car.  It is not like your situation where you accidentally hit a button on the fob that opens the door when you bend over.  This is the driver got out of the car, didn’t turn it off, and went in the house.  You could easily do this with traditional keys.  I’ve left my keys in the front door of the house before when unlocking the house after coming home.
       
      It is a sad story, but it was all the fault of the couple.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      “Press-and-hold-until-I-damn-well-decide-to-shutdown.”
       
      Didn’t we learn this about keyless ignitions (IMO a solution looking for a problem) with the Toyota “Unable to shut it off” issue?

    • 0 avatar

      #1 Some technology SHOULD NOT BE MESSED WITH.  I will never leave my key lock ignition.  If that runaway lexus had a key lock ignition that family that smashed into an intersection would still be alive today. I refuse to give up total control to a computer because its failsafes can fail.   This reminds me of the recent jumbo jet crash where the auto pilot failed because the pitot tubes frosted up and the computer had no idea what the airspeed was.

      #2  My coworker got a brand new Camry recently and she complained about this same thing. Sometimes she gets out of the car and its still on, but there’s no visible sign its still on and the engines are so quiet its hard to hear.   Essentially, the engine can be left running as easily as the headlamps can be left on.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Sometimes she gets out of the car and its still on…

      This is where engineers fail. In the lab everyone is alert/rested, focused and in comfortable shoes. The real-world has to park cars while dealing with kids, phones, dogs, melting ice cream and likely tired on top of any distractions. Plus engineers assume everyone is going to stop and read the Owner’s Manual before driving off in their new car/rental/loaner.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Hmmm, in this litigious society should a corporation or another person be responsible when I injure myself due to my own absent minded or stubborn inattentiveness?
     
    My condolences go out to the families regarding their tragic loss.

  • avatar
    rehposolihp

    John R’s comment about the manual is completely correct.  If they had for instance, popped open the hood and opened the radiator cap while the engine was hot – by this logic they should be able to sue.  I mean, it isn’t as if the radiator cap has a safety cutout.
    Not reading the instructions on one of the biggest purchases people make, on a machine with thousands of parts, dozens of buttons, hundreds of features, and that is quite frankly very dangerous if used inappropriately is baffling.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      This assumes that people read manuals. They don’t

    • 0 avatar
      vww12

      Well, then they shouldn’t complain when their new doohickey kills them.  Idiots.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper

      It’s not like you can even get a drivers license W/O reading a state issued drivers manual. So reading the car your operatings manual, is the least you can do.

      Maybe Toyota (or your ins carrier) should add an extra $100 to the cost of each car (or policy), to be rebated once you can pass a test based on the info you’ll need to know in order to safely operate that vehicle.

  • avatar
    findude

    Push button starters are typically also push button stoppers. So, they are an interface element with a persistent label, and the same action (pressing it) has opposite outcomes depending on the state of the equipment.  If the engine is off and you press the button, the engine turns on. If the engine is on and you press the button, the engine turns off.  Apparently in some implementations of this design it is not necessary for the key to be in any specific location.
     
    What could possibly go wrong?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    What is the sense of an auto remaining in operation or operable after the driver and/or key has been removed from the vehicle.

    If a mechanical, or electro-mechanical system is going to be replaced with an electrical or electronic system, the designers and developers have an obligation not to introduce more risk (or anymore risk than is necessary) into that system’s operating envelope unless there is a deliberate reason, and distinct advantage, to doing so.

    Key-less entry, keyless-go, has been around for more than half a decade now.  It would be advisable, and fair, to ask:  1) what was RMC’s reason for incorporating, or not eliminating, such a feature from this system, 2) was this a deliberate feature, or an oversight, 3) how have other OEM’s handled the design, and what due-care features have been incorporated into them.

    Just because FMVSS does not immediately prescribe, proscribe, or circumscribe the particular functional or design parameters of a new technology as that technology reaches the market, does not absolve an OEM from doing robust Ishikawa and FMEA exercises to predict and eliminate these kinds of failure-modes.

    Indeed, the failure of OEM’s individually, or across industry-organizations, to implement due-care features resulted in the creation and introduction of the existing regs.

    • 0 avatar
      PVDave


      “What is the sense of an auto remaining in operation or operable after the driver and/or key has been removed from the vehicle?”

      Oddly enough, this is a safety design. If Bob asks his son to run him to the airport, Bob may keep the keyless remote in his pocket as he heads to the plane. If the car was designed to shut down at some point after a keyless fob moved out of range, the car might:

      1) Leave Bob’s son stalled in the airport drop off lane, blocking traffic and guaranteeing a ticket.

      2) Lose engine power while driving down the road, reducing steering and brake assist.

      3) Lock the steering on the highway dues to the steering interlock device.

      While this may seem like an unlikely sequence of events, manufacturers would be liable for any accidents associated with vehicles shutting down in this manner. Using the current design, Bob’s son won’t be able to restart the car once he turns it off, but even without the key fob, Son of Bob can drive the car home and park it our of the way.

      Wireless devices such as cell phones and wireless internet connections also “drop out’ from time to time. If we design vehicles to shut down any time they lose communication with the key fob, they could shut down in the middle of freeway traffic. The drop out could be due to electromagnetic interference or a driver tossing their jacket (with the key fob in the pocket) into the back seat.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Point 1 is more or less trivial next to 2 and 3 (which are relevant).

      Re. RFI and keys on the back seat, isn’t this really unlikely if the fob is incorporating a passive RF transponder chip?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I think there is a simple implementation for you Dave.  If the car is on and in park for 10 minutes without the fob, shut it off.  Maybe even 5 minutes.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I’ve never used a keyless ignition car and neither has the wife.  I doubt my parents have either.
    IMHO there should be SOME safety control that keeps the car from running while no one is around for an extended period of time.  How hard would it really be to incorporate something like that?
    Also: If I have an attached garage & keep the keys in the kitchen, can kids remote start it without me knowing?  I have a key (kept up high) to keep kids (who are inside the house) out of the garage, but if it can remote start as well, I’d never know…Maybe my question is stupid but I honestly don’t know!
    With that being said, something that is so non-standard in a car should definitely have a safety feature incorporated…

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      Don’t know about Toyotas specifically but i would suspect the engine does stop once you move far enough away from the car. Only experience i have with these systems is a VW Touareg, and the engine stopped with the key 10-15m from the car. Then again if your garage is right next to the house you might never leave this range while at home.

      If you keep the keys out of reach and and car locked the kids should not be able to start it. If the doors are open and the key is within range, they could most likely start it by pressing the start button.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Are you sure about the Tourag turning off once it’s 10-15 meters from the key? If the vehicle was stationary, no problem. But if it’s moving, that could be a real problem, unless VW has made the vehicle smart enough not to shut off if the gear selector is in anything other than Park.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I don’t know about the Touareg, but it shares a lot of the gizmos with the Phaeton, In my Phaeton, I could walk up to the car with the key in my pocket. It opened, I pushed the start key, and it took off. After that, I pushed the stop key, got up and walked away. That was always a bit iffy. I never trusted the thing to actually lock the car. So I stood in front of it and waited, and waited ….

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      Well it beeped for a while and then just turned off, it was in Park at the time with one person still inside the car. Can’t say if it turns off while driving or when not in park. Do you often drive with the key outside the car? ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Anything more than 2m is excessive.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I don’t personally drive with the key outside the car, but there are not unusual situations when it could easily happen:

      For example, a husband and wife both have keys to their car. One morning, the husband forgets his key, but his wife has hers. They both get into the car, it starts off the wife’s key, and the husband drives her to her destination. The husband stops, puts the vehicle into Park, drops off his wife, then takes the vehicle out of Park before his wife can get 10-15m away from the car and continues on his way, not knowing it was his wife’s key which allowed the car to operate.

      Now, if it was a Touareg, would it then suddenly shut the engine off within 10-15m from the point the wife had been dropped off?

      Of course, there are also situations where the vehicle shutting off the engine without a key within range would be a benefit like, say, a car-jacking.

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      Hadn’t thought of that. But yes, the Touareg would have first warned you about the key and then stopped if you kept driving.  IMHO you should be able to walk around the car with the key in your pocket, any further than that and the car should first warn you(with a really annnoying chime of course…), and then stop if you get further away. I would be surprised if all these systems didn’t turn off the engine once the key gets out of range. The range might differ of course.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Sad story.

    Our Infiniti has a keyless ignition. If the driver exits a running car an audible warning sounds. Did the Toyota/Lexus bean counters save a few yen here?

    No home should be without at least one $10 carbon monoxide detector.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Surely building regulations require that a built-in garage should be sealed from the house when the internal door is shut , to prevent any fumes leaking into the house.Why not sue the house builder , or the government department that permitted their house to be built in such a dangerous way ?

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      It’s hardly ever one thing that kills a person in an accident, rather it is a chain of events that could have been broken in several ways.
      In addition to the weaknesses in the keyless start system, it is clear that U.S. building codes permit garages with inadequate separation from houses.  A garage under a bedroom (often with a gas water heater and a gas-powered mower inside) is far safer filled with bicycles and boxes than with a car.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Building codes on this relate to fire, not gasses. A self-closing fire door and fire-resistive wall and ceiling covering are required. I often smell fumes in the kitchen above from whatever project is going on in the garage.

  • avatar
    Steinweg

    I would like to see start stop technology mandated in the US and Canada. Idling should not be a default setting on any ICE-powered car. It’s wasteful of fuel, pollutes without benefit, and unless you’ve got a cop car, it’s probably bad for the engine too. And now proof that idling can kill. Toyota isn’t guilty of anything like negligence. The industry is just complacent and the laws not sufficiently up to date. Start stop works on ICE-only cars in Europe. Should start stop cars have an override, or a cut-in if the battery is running down, some accommodations for hot and cold weather? Perhaps, but the default for a parked car should be “off.”

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      It’s wasteful of fuel, pollutes without benefit, and unless you’ve got a cop car, it’s probably bad for the engine too. And now proof that idling can kill.
       
      How are police engines different?
       
      I can’t find a source on when it was first discovered that carbon monoxide from a vehicle exhaust can kill, but I’m pretty sure it happened before this.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @Steinweg
      While engines for police work may not differ, alternators and batteries often do.  Police duty cycles differ from civilian by the high electric loads at idle for radios, lights, radar, computers, and A/C for surveillance and other work while sitting inside the car.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    I don’t get it! What does this has to do with keyless ignition? So it wasn’t possible to forget to turn off the car and walk away when there was ignitions keys?
    This is indeed sad. But the culture of lawyers trying to sue someone that has injured or killed herself make many of us in Europe think that the one so great country is full of morons.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      So it wasn’t possible to forget to turn off the car and walk away when there was ignitions keys?
      This is indeed sad. But the culture of lawyers trying to sue someone that has injured or killed herself make many of us in Europe think that the one so great country is full of morons.
       
      +1. Many like to idle their cars for extended periods of time, for HVAC purposes. Americans want their cars to be living rooms. Adding alarms / shutoffs / and other nanny features may work for some. But they will be disabled and/or resented by the market.
      This story is sad, but there’s something wrong with people who can buy Lexus and choose not to have a working CO detector in their home.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Then why, generally, has European traffic and vehicle safety legislation followed that of the US (sometimes even after blocking the implementation of US-features for years)?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      My mother has a CO and also a fire detector, and she is almost 80% deaf.

      On those nights when she has to take her hearing aids out to let them dry, and the skin in her ears recover from the abrasion of the devices, she is stone deaf.

      We tested a number of devices, but none really were adequate (even flashing light devices).

      Don’t jump to conclusions about people being idiots, nowhere in the article does it say that they did not have, or did not have a working, detector in the house.  Callous and cavalier attitudes can cause a person to overlook potential root causes.

      Again I ask, what is the sense for this vehicle to be capable of doing what it did?

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      Don’t jump to conclusions about people being idiots, nowhere in the article does it say that they did not have, or did not have a working, detector in the house.
      Don’t expect the typical J-skool writer to look in this direction. Pimping a lawsuit is what you do when a good chunk of your revenue stream comes from trial bar ads.
      Callous and cavalier attitudes can cause a person to overlook potential root causes.
      And deep pockets and a lawsuit lottery mentality can cause a person to expect all BigBadCorporations to anticipate and prevent all potential bad outcomes.
      Again I ask, what is the sense for this vehicle to be capable of doing what it did?
      Consumers like to idle their cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      In what situation then would companies be able to be sued, and would consumers be able to seek restitution if not for the current system?  What else (and don’t say the market, because I’ve seen it, and we discussed it internally, that right decisions don’t get made without regs and the threat of their being enforced, market mechanisms act too slowly and too weakly to exert the right kind of influence over decision-making) would influence large corporations to behave responsibly and competently if not for the threat of a law-suit (and a big penalty payment)?

      Idling a card is almost always a bad thing no matter the reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      All of Europe and Japan seem to get along very well without all the trial lawyers.

      Yes, trial lawyers do some good. But in large part they treat dandruff by decapitation.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yes every house should have a CO detector, even an all electric house like my parents have has one source of CO.  (In the garage.)
     
    Now do I think Toyota should lose this lawsuit?  No.  But I do think manufacturers would have installed some sort of auto shut off just for the simple reason they would like to make their products harder to steal.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    Clearly someone at Lexus is a fan of the immortal Bard.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    It would be interesting to know exactly how the start-stop button on their vehicle operates. Most people would assume that if you push it once to turn it on, you push it again the same way to turn it off. (that’s pretty much how every other on/off switch on the planet operates). However, some systems require at least a 3-second press to turn the vehicle off. That doesn’t seem intuitive.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      If it is not something like:
      - instantaneous if in P or N,
      - 3 sec if in any other gear,
      then something is wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      You would think that Off should be instantaneous but they build in a delay in case the driver is fumbling around and presses it without intending to. The problem is that, as we learned with the Toyota SA deal, some can vary over 150% from what the manual says.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      On Toyotas, a single push on the engine start/stop button will shut the engine off immediately if the transmission is in Park or Neutral. I’ve never tried doing it in Drive. The instrument cluster also provides visual feedback when the engine is shut off. I drive Camrys occasionally at work. There’s no need to hold down the button.

      In Nissans, the start/stop button will shut off the engine immediately if the transmission is in Drive and the car is not moving. The instrument cluster will warn the driver that the shifter needs to be in the P position and the foot on the brake to restart the car. Nissan also includes a little slot to insert the key fob for people who are used to old fashioned keys in the ignition starting.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    A sad story, but they can’t just blame the keyless ignition. Modern luxury cars ability to not make any sound at all when running has a lot of the fault here. Who would ever have thought that my 20 year old Fords rough idle and sputtering exhaust note could be a safety thing?
    edit, And now there’s another reason to buy cars with the stop/start systems.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    This is a problem because in the past we had to turn the car off in order to walk away with the keys. Toyota et al should have seen this as a potential problem. Second problem I’ve seen over and over; Husband drives with wife to the airport, gets out, wife slides over, drives away, stops at a store and can’t restart the dang car.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Loosy-goosy, mickey-mouse, call it what you will, development results in a product or feature brought to market before its creator or manufacturer really understands it, or how it will be used in the real-world.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Manufactures scramble to be the first with the latest hi-tech gadgets without considering all real-world scenarios. Plus it’s an added bonus when a mechanical component can be replaced with cheap light weight processors. Anything you can drive-by-wire saves a manufacturer a ton on R&D, hard materials, assembly time and warranty repairs/reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Yes I know, I’ve been in the auto game for nearly 30 years … and when you rush to hit the market and arrive there with conceptual flaws, you need to accept the liability for your actions.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The one who died should be a candidate for the Darwin Awards.
     
    Toyota is innocent, if you leave it running IT IS YOUR FAULT.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Well, it was a lawyer…
     
    too soon?
    This is a BS suit. (Almost) any car made since the beginning of time can be left running without a driver. Blame it on dementia, not Toyota.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    If this happened in a Lincoln MKZ we wouldn’t hear about it! This is a common sense issue, turn your car off when you park it. If you don’t know that then take public transit.
     
    My condolences to the family for their loss.

  • avatar
    foolish

    The court of the internet is now is session, the somewhat honorable Judge Foolish presiding:
    The suit claims that the keyless ignition feature violates federal safety standards because the engine can continue to run indefinitely even after the driver walks away with key fob that communicates with the car.  Mr Kushlefsky accuses Toyota of failing to install a safety switch. A switch could turn the ignition off if the car had been idle for a while or unoccupied for a period of time.
    “It creates certain safety risks that did not exist with conventional key technology,”
    False!  A car with a conventional key will continue to run for as long as it has gas if the driver forgets to turn it off and take their key out.  No new safety risk was “created”
    “Accidentally, she left the engine running.”
    Case dismissed.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The problem is that we’ve all been trained to walk away with keys in hand, for the sake of not locking the keys in the dang car. Shutting the car off has alway been ‘automatic’ since you couldn’t walk away with the key without turning the key backwards to pull it out (after pulling it in ‘Park’). Manufacturers forget that human are creatures of habit and when new technology makes things simpler by taking out certain steps that where formerly ‘cues’, problems will arise. This is why you have to put (old) cars in “Park” before the key will come out. If humans were perfect, we wouldn’t need this (or any) safe guards. 

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      On appeal, it was shown by the onboard computer memory the driver had, in fact, executed a “turn key Off and remove” maneuver (although updated to “press-and-release” for this new, unproven technology) but the vehicle failed to respond.
       
      Defendant claims it’s actually “Press-Hold ’till Hell freezes over-Relaese” is the proper sequence.
       
      Award to the Plaintiff.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete


      I’ve read that several people have blamed the driver because “they forgot to turn the car off”.
       
      BUT, that’s the beauty of a key: it not only unlocks the car (not doors in this case, but engine), but it is used to start the engine.  So the old system had 1 control (key) and 1 action (insert and turn).  This new system has replaced that with 2 controls (fob and button) and replaced it with two actions (come within or leave proximity [unlock] and press button [off and on].
       
      Man, what an inelegant design.  The old system of inserting a key and twisting is sure beauty in it’s simplicity.
       
      Verdict: bad (if not sophomoric) design.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    RTFM

  • avatar
    RGS920

    This sounds like a really good case if the facts that the lawyer is alleging are correct.  I don’t know whether NY follows the restatement of products liability so it might be a different standard but the test for a defect design is whether the seller could have reduced or the products “foreseeable risks of harm” by the adoption of reasonable alternative design and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe. 

    In law school I remember reading a case about the metal pressing machines they used to mold early car panels.  In the case a factory worker’s hand was crushed in one of them.  It went to trial and the evidence showed that a 5 cent piece of metal could have been added to the machine that would have prevented the mishap and that other company’s produced similar machines with this safety feature added.

    Although people bemoan tort law, it has been a driving force in the steady improvement of products this country makes.  Let’s say discovery in the Toyota case shows that Toyota possessed documents where Toyota engineers were aware of the potential problem with the keyless starters and recommended that the programmers add a few lines of software code to turn the car off if it is idle for over 20 minutes.  Toyota’s failure to act on this information should have consequences. 

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      Tort law has been the driving force to virtually eliminate the sense of personal responsibility that used to make American society great.  The free market drives innovation and product improvement.
       
      Seriously??  A line of software code so the car turns itself off?  The owner turned the car on, the owner should turn the car off.  Can I sue the builder of my house because the light switches don’t turn themselves off?  I keep forgetting and now my electric bill is too high, waaaah.  I stubbed my toe and almost broke it on a table leg, but a 5 cent rubber thingy would have prevented that.
       
      No, I don’t bemoan tort law, I am disgusted by it.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Although people bemoan tort law, it has been a driving force in the steady improvement of products this country makes.

      Tort law does help improve products. But very little. At great expense to society in general.

      The main purpose of tort law is to enrich lawyers. It is a broken system, in my opinion, that continues to operate because of greed and corruption.

      Case in point. John Edwards, now a disgraced politician, made a fortune and ruined the lives of many doctors by convincing juries of a medical problem that was fantasy, not fact.

      No, I don’t bemoan tort law, I am disgusted by it.

      Me too.

    • 0 avatar
      RGS920

      I obviously can’t list all the exceptions or defenses for product liability cases.  But keep in mind that in almost every state their is no strict liability for purely economic damages.  You leave the lights on, the car running, you can’t sue based on a product defect to get back the money you wasted in electricity or gas.  I’ll admit that there have been some horrible product liability cases (ugggg the hot coffee case) but state legislatures can and do limit those types of claims in response to bad tort cases. 

      Also your example of the table isn’t a design defect case.  A table is designed to be a hard, aesthetically pleasing object you place in your home.  Putting rubber pads on the table legs would destroy the purpose of the table and is not a design defect case.  Also the dangers of hitting a limb against a hard object is obvious and the manufacturer doesn’t have to warn or protect against those types of dangers. 

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      Case in point #2: Burt Rutan.  In the 1970s he made a bit of money in the kit airplane business because he was good at it.  He got out of that business when he was whittled down by the cost of defending himself against frivolous lawsuits.  Burt Rutan never lost in court.  Most people probably haven’t heard of him but they’ve seen his work in the news.  Only two different airplanes have flown around the world nonstop on a single tank of gas.  Only one private spaceship has carried a human being into space.  Rutan designed all three of those- AFTER he cut his losses in the  business.  The man is absolutely brilliant but because of tort law he had to take his innovating and job-creating talents to consulting.
       
      Engineers usually have to take a few humanities classes as part of their undergrad degrees.  It’s supposed to make them “well rounded” people.  Do tort and product liability lawyers have to take “technical things for dummies” classes to help them actually understand the cases they take on?  Or are those blocks taken up by stuff like “how to select a sympathetic, ignorant jury” or “where the deep pockets are?”
       
      Toyota didn’t do or not do anything to kill that man in New York.  His wife made a tragic mistake and that’s what killed him.

    • 0 avatar
      RGS920

      JimC, I don’t know any of the details of the suits filed against Mr. Ruton.  If they truly were frivolous and filed just to put Mr. Ruton out of business then at least in federal court the opposing side could have been forced to pay for all Mr. Ruton’s expenses during litigation under FRCP 11.  Also if it was an attorney who helped bring a frivilous suit against Mr. Ruton he would have been subject to professional discipline, possibly disbarment or his license suspended. 

      You say that engineers have to take a few humanity classes in college to make them “well rounded.”  Every ABA accredited law school requires their students to take and pass a professional responsibility class detailing how a lawyer must behave.  Moreover, when that law student graduates and sits for a state bar, in many jurisdictions in addition to passing that State’s bar exam, the student must also pass a nationwide ethics exam called the MPRE.  The MPRE is a relatively recent exam but it is a good step to ensuring that lawyers are aware of how to properly act.  Once admitted to a bar a lawyer must take a certain amount of classes each year on professional responsibility or else he or she will not be permitted to continue practicing law. 

      In addition, every attorney is subject to professional rules of responsibility.  These rules are extremely serious and if a lawyer has violated a rule (such as filing a frivolous law suit) he or she may never be allowed to practice law again.  You can go online to a state’s judicial disciplinary board and look up any lawyer or judge to see whether they have been subject to discipline.  Often times their are detailed opinions explaining what the lawyer did to deserve a sanction.  

      That being said, I am not trying to argue that these rules are perfect or will prevent dishonest people from hurting other people while practicing law.  I’d like to think that most attorneys got into this job to help people who are truly in need.  I know that’s not the case but it is how it should be.  It doesn’t help that the general public rarely hears about the attorney who helped a person get their life back together after a tragedy that should have never happened.  It just doesn’t make compelling news in this modern world.  That could be the case here.  Or not.  However, often times it is the cases like Mr. Ruton that get ingrained in people’s minds as why attorneys are doing more harm then good. 

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      Nice try with the subject change but I didn’t mention ethics.  (Engineers have to take that and have professional conduct standards and exams for that too.)  Let me rephrase it:  how does a plaintiff’s counsel and a judge know whether or not a lawsuit is frivolous?  If that responsibility falls on the defendant to prove and then pursue damages once the plaintiff loses with withdraws, that is just one thing that is wrong with the legal system.
       
      Since we’re on the topic of Toyotas, what about that reckless clown who faked the runaway Prius in California?  He got a lawyer pretty quick after he pulled that stunt–same guy who represented the dead Lexus guy who couldn’t figure out how to shift the car into neutral–they wisely didn’t sue but the lawyer went on record talking some gibberish about a “ghost in the machine.”  Right.  Where did he learn such amazing technical knowledge?  So what was Toyota supposed to do to get their damages back?  Sue the bankrupt Prius guy for damages?  Riiight.
       
      I don’t dispute that some good people do get their lives back on track, but with all the ads on billboards, yellow pages ads, tv and radio spots, and whatnot I seriously believe the majority of these cases are sue and/or threaten to sue your way to success.  And Toyotas aren’t going to be improved from “pedalgate,” “floormatgate,” or “keylessgate.”  Just a few richer ambulance chasers while the rest of society does real work.
       
      PS- it’s Rutan with an “a,” not Ruton with an “o.”

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Although people bemoan tort law, it has been a driving force in the steady improvement of products this country makes.
       
      RGS920: This is a true statement, and predictably there are those who automatically jumped in with disgust.  No doubt they would pipe a different tune if they found their ability to sue limited by aggressive restrictions on tort cases.  However, the process of improvement is not very efficient as the lawyers have made it that way.  The attorneys want to max out the money they make.  But the threat of such cases does drive the manufactures to attempt to minimize the likelyhood of such product defects.  The idea that the market will force the manufactures to act responsibly is ludicrous.  Much like those lawyers, the manufactures want to make as much money as possible.  Sad to say, when money is at stake, people will almost always act in their own self interest with no regard for others.  Hence the need for strong, but sensible regulation.
       
      Regarding this case, it is understandable that the owners may have exited their car with the fob in hand and simply walked away oblivious to the danger at hand.  I sometimes have to think twice with my push button start car.  This is really not something unusual; I think most people might make this mistake at one point or another, especially if you are elderly and your car is all but silent at idle.  I really think any manufacturer should have considered this as a possible scenario.  So, what to do?  Well, not to be a Luddite, but what is so bad with a key?  Or, how about a CO detector in the car that blares the horn, rolls down the windows, and in the case of cars in park for more than X minutes, auto shut down.  Cost is negligible as CO detectors are really cheap.  Everything else needed is already in the car.  It is so easy to say “personal responsibility” and I really believe people should be responsible and act accordingly.  But as I watch my father age (82) I see instances where something like this becomes more and more likely.  He’s no dope either, as he was a professional engineer and a business owner for 45 years.  But as people age, it becomes much more likely that things like this will occur more frequently.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Much of what has already been said here has its merits to one degree or another, but who is not daunted by the sheer enormity of information and instruction that owners’ manuals contain? For my Audi, pages are devoted to radio functions, not to mention more still for climate, clock, trip computer, etc. And then on to all the other matters involving servicing, warning lights and signals, tire pressure monitoring, and on and on. For the average person, you then add manuals for kitchen and laundry appliances, cell phones, computers, printers, fax machines, watches, clocks, televisions, ipods, radios, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, lawnmowers, power tools for inside the house and out, etc. I could obviously go on. Is there not something wrong here? You can quite easily consume a good portion of your waking life reading instructions and maintaining possesions. Ah, the good life! 

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      I’ve read through Toyota and Lexus owners manuals before, front to back. They’re not bad. Toyota tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the operation of the vehicle in succinct, fluent English, and even warns you of dangers in a humble tone. Ever wonder what all the various selections for the air vents are good for? Wonder no more! Besides, it’s no big deal if you read it once when you get the car and simply refer to it when you need to during the ownership of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    K5ING

    I’ve always thought that remote start systems (both keyless and not) are dangerous.  If I had designed such a system, I would put a beeper and LED in the fob that would alert the user that the car is running.  That would both discourage extended unattended running and let the owner know that the car may have started if the button was accidentally pressed.  I would also design it where you needed to press at least 3 or more buttons in a certain sequence to start it.  That way, kids (as long as they didn’t know the “combination”) couldn’t start it.

    • 0 avatar

      This is not a remote start system. There is no start engine button on the fob. They forgot to turn the car off.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      Did the driver:
      Fail to press the button at all?
      Fail to press the button in enough?
      Fail to press and hold?
      Fail to press and hold a reasonable/the necessary length of time?
      The computer failed to recognize the press and/or hold event?
       
      Answer that and you’ll answer who is greater at fault.

  • avatar
    tdhump65

    My 2 cents…Plenty has been said and though it is sad people have to die it does not totally get them off the hook. Hopefully someone will take responsibility. Auto manufacturers and consumers. I know for a fact Toyota insisted I read a placard to at least understand some basics. I too have come to understand that some consumers think having a car is just a payment a month without any regard for what it takes to maintain a vehicle. I am sure Toyota will change things given the current government climate. However, the consumer needs to be knowledgeable about what they are purchasing, not just what it costs.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    I had heard that catalytic converters were so good at removing carbon monoxide from car exhaust that cars running in garages would not kill people. That even an organization that assists people with suicide plans recommended that you not try to kill yourself with car exhaust. It’s too iffy.
     
    Looks like I was dead wrong.
     

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Well exhaust smells are virtually gone and that may be part of the problem. Common sense tells us car exhaust can definitely kill since oxygen is still being replaced with CO. I think natural gas has an added odor just as a safety precaution.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Common sense tells us car exhaust can definitely kill since oxygen is still being replaced with CO.

      The problem is not oxygen depletion. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen at the parts per million level. Oxygen levels are typically at 20%. Unless you have an airtight room, you are not going to be in danger of running out of oxygen.

      But it seems that even though catalytic converters reduce carbon monoxide, they do not eliminate it. So if the engine runs long enough, cars can still kill. chestjournal.chestpubs.org/content/115/2/580.long
       
      This case does seem odd, though. A car idling in a closed garage kills and injures people sleeping in a separate bedroom. Carbon monoxide is about the same weight as air. It tends to diffuse throughout spaces, rather than collect at the roof or pool at the floor.
       
      Maybe the lawyer in this case is lying. Hard to prove that the car was left running. That seems to me a bit hard to believe.
       
      On the other hand, strange things do happen.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      @Dannii2: yup.  Even with normal amounts of oxygen in the air and much much less carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide can be toxic because it displaces oxygen from the hemoglobin in your blood.
       
      In layman’s terms- Sorta like the way soap attracts dirt.  Soap and dirt have an affinity for each other.  Oxygen and hemoglobin have an affinity for each other but carbon monoxide and hemoglobin have A LOT of affinity for each other.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      If I recall correctly, the toxicity level of CO is in the 50 parts per million range. A modern engine with a good catalytic converter that is warmed up, should have CO in that range or lower directly in the exhaust pipe. You still can’t breathe the exhaust … because it contains no oxygen.
       
      If the engine is running in a nearly-sealed garage, CO2 levels will go up, eventually to the point that the engine stalls. I do not know if CO levels would start going up as this situation approaches – it’s quite possible that CO would be emitted if the engine is breathing in air that’s below the normal boundaries of oxygen content.
       
      Still, proper new house construction requires the garage to be virtually sealed from the house. I have no idea whether local building codes in their area require this, or perhaps the house was old enough to have pre-dated this requirement.
       
      I don’t like the keyless stop/start systems in general, there is too much potential for things to go wrong, but if anything, perhaps the fault lies with NHTSA (in USA) and UNECE (in Europe and elsewhere) for not prohibiting or regulating such systems …

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Darwinism…gotta love it.

    People, STOP blaming anything you can for accidents.
    They happen.
    Why was there no device installed to sound the carbon monoxide alarm!?
    You drive a Lexus but don’t have smoke/carbon monox alarms in your home!!!!! 

    I once left my car running, unlocked, while I went into a store.
    Came out and saw it running.

    Most of my new cars are so well built, I can’t tell when they are running.
    But I need to turn them off when I get out.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      Just a nit, but it’s not Darwinism if they had kids that survived to reproduce. :) I’m very thankful for anti-grind starter protection though. I’ve accidentally cranked cars that I forgot I turned on a minute ago when I got distracted by conversation. I check the tachometer now.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    All the keyless ignition systems I’ve been exposed to (Toyota, Corvette) sound a beeper or buzzer if you open the door with the engine running, and beep more if you walk away.  It’s  a tragic situation, but the lawsuit seems unjustified… how do you not hear the engine running and the beeper?

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Why stop here? They should sue the oil company who produced gasoline, sue the company who extracted ore that was used to make metal for the car, sue the builder for not sealing garage from the house, sue the government that it did not require CO detectors as mandatory equipment when the house was built and for not requiring emissions of the car to be 100% harmless, sue the DMV for issuing a license in the first place, sue the insurance company for making insurance for this vehicle affordable enough, so the couple could afford it, etc.

    That’s the problem with modern society, nobody wants to be responsible for their own actions. And what was wrong with having a normal ignition with the key in the first place? I see no purpose in keyless ignition.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    with older people living by themselves can be a big liability. sadly it happened to these folks, when my late mom was alive she could turn on the stove and forgotten it, so as many yrs ago a smoking roomate had left the stove on overnight as he needed to lit a ciggy. Lookily nothing had happened or else one of us could have been a Roasted piggy just need an apple on the mouth.
     

  • avatar
    mvlbr

    This is absolutely retarded because:
    1: The standard procedure when purchasing a car is that the dealer is supposed to explain all the features of a car upon delivery especially how to turn the car on or off(which BTW the manufacturer always follows up a purchase with a survey asking if everything was explained to you upon delivery of the vehicle).
    2:  I own an 08 IS250 and if I step out of the car with the engine running and the key fob with me the car emits a beep that is louder than the idling engine sound as a warning that you have not shut off the engine.
     
    To me this sounds like owner negligence.  For all we know these people could have gotten home late one night from a party with a little bit of alcohol intoxication and completely forgot to turn the car off when arriving home. Or maybe this is just another case of AARP members with bad hearing that they could neither hear the loud beep nor the engine running when leaving the car.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak


    “…she’s left with a feeling that somehow she’s responsible for the accident,” Kushlefsky said.

    She is !

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    This article, and most of the responses thereto, are absolutely effing ridiculous. The lady left the car running. She chose to die. The end.

  • avatar
    MattPete


    I don’t know the details of this case, so I could be wrong, but on the face of it it seems like this could be a case of bad Human Factors.  The type of case study you would introduce in Human Factors 101 in NOT how to design a system.
     
    IF it was the case that the car kept running after the keyless fob was moved from the interior of the car to another part of the house, then this is a bad design.  Period.  A car should not continue running if a person has exited the car with the starting device.
     
    The beauty of mechanical (or electronic) keys that need to be physically inserted is that the also need to be mechanically removed to turn off the car.  This not only enforces a specific habit, but drivers often have other keys or doodads on the same key ring, which gives them an added incentive to remove the key.
     
    This is somewhat (if imperfectly) analogous to the redesign of ATMs.  It used to be that you didn’t get your card back until the transaction was complete, and it wasn’t unusual for folks to get their receipt and walk away from the machine with their card still in it.  By changing the design so that individuals swipe their card at the beginning, the designer has removed the possibility of the user from walking away from the machine with the card still in it.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting that, in all these rants, only about one asked the correct — and obvious — question: How does the Lexus keyless start work?  If the driver exits the car with the engine running and the key fob in his pocket, does any alarm sound?  It appears that some other manufacturers’ keyless systems have this feature.  Does Lexus?  If it Lexus does have this feature, was it working correctly on this particular car?
    It seems to me that there is a liability issue if (a) other car manufacturers’ keyless ignition systems warn a driver who exits the care with the engine running (a “standard of care” has been established) and Lexus does not or (b) in this particular car, the warning system failed (this would be the easy case, it seems to me).
    Since none of my cars have a keyless system, I have no experience with one.  I did rent an Altima that had a keyless system, but never tested what happened if I exited the car with the engine running.
    Also, no one has discussed what visible indications there are on the dashboard that the engine is running, other than a tachometer that is not sitting on zero.  However, just about every car made in the last several years, has a “door open” indicator that lights up when a door is opened and the ignition is “on.”  Often a chime or other aural indicator is triggered under those circumstances as well.  So, it would seem that the decedent had warning that the car was still on when she opened the door to get out — there would have been a light of some sort on the dashboard and probably a chime or buzzer.  Admittedly, my experience with these features is with cars that have a key ignition; but there is no reason to assume they’re any different with a keyless ignition.  If I’m not mistaken, the “trigger” in my cars (Saab, Honda, BMW) is not the presence of the key in the ignition; its the fact that the ignition is switched to “on.”    (Assuming that these features were working correctly in her car.)
    So, I don’t think the decedents have much of a case, assuming that their car was working correctly.  I would imagine that the woman had both visual and aural warnings that her car was switched “on” when she opened the driver side door to exit and this has nothing to do with whether the ignition was keyless or not.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      If it’s the same as my Prius, a chime sounds and a key icon is illuminated on the dash if you leave the car without shutting it down. The other clue is that the dash display is on. I always take extra caution with that car and make sure park is set and the dash goes bye-bye before getting out. A continuous alarm if you try to open the driver’s door when the hybrid system is “on” and the driver’s door is opened. Page 46 of the 08 Prius manual lists all the of keyless entry alarms.
       
      A scarier situation where someone might have a legal case is that if you have a plug-in with active thermal management that somehow would turn on an ICE to heat the battery on a cold morning. I’m guessing that would never happen because the thermal management is probably elecrtic only, but if the car wasn’t plugged in and the battery was low and needed to be warmed, would the ICE start – even by accident.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Two issues come to mind when reading these posts.
     
    One, no one seems to know exactly how the Lexus system works, so we’re left with a lot of conjecture, and precious little experience. I can’t comment on the system either, because I have no idea what safeguards (if any) are built into it.
     
    The other is that the lawyers are always trotted out to bash in instances like this. But, just like cops,  when folks have been wronged and need one, they sure seem to find them.
     
    I don’t know about the merits of this particular case, but is it not conceivable that there has been real injury here? Is there a real possibility that something could have been designed poorly, and needs to be corrected?

  • avatar
    blowfish

     

    Bertel Schmitt
    November 7th, 2010 at 9:51 am

     
    Well, I don’t know about the Touareg, but it shares a lot of the gizmos with the Phaeton, In my Phaeton, I could walk up to the car with the key in my pocket. It opened, I pushed the start key, and it took off. After that, I pushed the stop key, got up and walked away. That was always a bit iffy. I never trusted the thing to actually lock the car. So I stood in front of it and waited, and waited ….
     
    That is pretty scary in the hands of older folks who are a bit scatter brain.

     

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    The obvious question here is if they have an engine start button, why don’t keyless ignition cars have an engine stop button, clearly labeled and easily reached in emergencies?This would address both the runaway car situation and the “forgot to turn off the engine” scenario. While I am generally skeptical of “nanny state” devices in this case I think some sort of emergency stop device is necessary to address the ambiguity of keyfob/pushbutton setups versus turn the key setups..


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India