Inspired by the Ignition Switch Defect, Lara’s Law Passes

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Hearing that a law intended to address defective vehicles that you have poured your heart and soul into following the death of your child due to an auto defect would typically be a time for quiet reflection or even a mild celebration. However, the parents of Lara Gass are anything but pleased with the bill’s passage out of a state Senate committee. They claim that the bill was, essentially, gutted by amendments made that once again shift the risk posed by defective cars, truck, vans, and other motor vehicles away from auto manufacturers and dealers and onto consumers.

Who Was Lara And What Does She Have to Do With Ignition Switch Defects?

Lara D. Gass was a third-year (3L) law student at Washington and Lee. Lara was traveling to her federal court externship in her Saturn Ion when there was a loss of vehicle control and Lara’s car slammed into the back of a semi-trailer. Nearly upon impact, Lara’s Ion burst into flames destroying the vehicle. Due to her injuries from the impact and the ensuing fire, Lara passed away in the accident.

The cause of the loss of vehicle control was GM’s ignition switch defect. Apparently, the key ring was jostled or the defect otherwise occurring causing a loss of power to the vehicle and the driver’s side airbag to fail to deploy. Perhaps even more heart-rending, three days prior to the accident Lara and her parents had received a notification from GM regarding the recall. However, the recall notice stated that the necessary parts for a repair of the defect were unavailable.

How Would Lara’s Law Address Defects in Cars & Trucks?

While Lara’s Law is a Tennessee bill, it would fill an important gap in federal auto safety regulations. Currently, under federal law, there is no statute or regulation that prohibits the sale of a used vehicle with known defects and recalls. This runs counter to consumer expectations as people generally do not expect to purchase a vehicle that is new to them when it has open, unaddressed recalled. Furthermore, since there is a prohibition on transferring a new vehicle with known defects under a stop sales order under 49 USC 30120(i)(1), consumers typically expect problems to be remedied by the dealer who is best positioned to be informed of and handle these problems. While other states are free to impose laws that would hold used car sales to the standard applied to new cars, no state has taken this action to protect consumer health and safety.

Philadelphia Ignition Switch Failure Attorneys

Female hand starting a car engine with ignition key

Like in all states, Tennessee law does not prohibit the sale of used vehicles with known open recalls. However, the original version of Lara’s Law would have remedied this situation. The original bill prohibited the sale of used cars until a dealer provided the purchaser with an updated recall information report. Furthermore, for vehicles subject to a stop-sale or a stop-drive recall order, the dealer would have been prohibited from selling or transferring the vehicle. Additionally, if the database indicates the vehicle has open, unrepaired recalls the dealer would be required to repair the recall or provide the report and secure the consumer’s signed consent acknowledging the unrepaired defect.

Unfortunately, the bill ran into difficulties in the subcommittee hearing and several changes that are less favorable to consumers were made to it. First, the bill would only prohibit the sale and require repair for vehicles subject to a stop-drive recall. Senator Green, responsible for sponsoring the bill stated, “In a sense, it transfers the risk from the person responsible for the manufacturing defect to the consumer, and that was my reason for opposing it.” Lara’s Gasses father, Jay Gass, stated “Our intent was not to go this direction.  Our intent was to fix all recalled used cars before they are sold.”

The Injury Problem Posed by Defective Used Vehicles Sold Despite Open Recalls

Unfortunately, neither federal law nor the law of any state prohibits used car dealers from selling vehicles with open and unrepaired safety recalls. Due to this quirk in the law, unsuspecting consumers who may not even be listed as the owner or record for purposes of recall notices may unknowingly purchase unrepaired vehicles with potentially deadly problems. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious, life-altering injury due to a defective vehicle call the personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 246-9000. Likewise, if a loved one has been killed due to a defective car or truck, call us to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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