Friday, January 30, 2009

The Erin Brockovich of the Auto Industry

Hi Everyone.  I've been so busy with school that my blog has been tragically neglected.  But I thought this warranted special attention - my mom is being awarded tonight for Consumer Advocate of the Year for her decade of work trying to make cars safer.  Thought I'd share the article with you.  Isn't she puuurty?

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Paula Lawlor, a former legal assistant, now independent contractor to attorneys nationwide who represent victims of automobile rollovers and the founder of the non-profit People Safe in Rollovers will receive the Consumer Advocate of the Year award from the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego at the Annual Awards & Installation Dinner at the U.S. Grants Hotel in downtown San Diego on Thursday, January 29, 2009.

The dinner and program, in the Presidential Ballroom will begin at 6:30 p.m. Other award categories are Trial Lawyer of the Year; Legislator of the Year; Judge of the Year and the J. Alexys Kalafer Award.

For the past 10 years Lawlor, who sees herself as a "social entrepreneur" -- one who believes that "to get things done and change society, you must be willing to go outside the normal channels" -- has been on a mission to fight for a stronger roof strength standard and to inform the motoring public about the devastating effects of "roof crush" while alerting consumers about the ramifications of the proposed inadequate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, FMVSS 216.

Due to the efforts of Paula Lawlor and Kevin Moody, a father from Oklahoma who lost his son Tyler to injuries sustained from "roof crush" in a rollover 6 years ago, and Senator/Dr. Tom Coburn, there was a June 4th, 2008 Senate Oversight Hearing on Vehicle Roof Strength in Washington, D.C.

Despite the fact that every year in the U.S. 10,000 die in auto rollovers and 24,000 are catastrophically injured, the roof strength standard has not changed in thirty-six years and the deadline for a new roof strength standard has been repeatedly postponed. The July 1st, 2008 deadline imposed on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, was derailed by the June 4th Senate Hearing because both Republican and Democrat Senators alike objected to the new weak standard proposed by NHTSA and the insertion of a preemption clause that would have robbed litigants of their constitutional right to sue and preempted all common law liability for manufacturers.

A new deadline was set for October 1st, 2008 and missed.

A second deadline was set for December 15th, 2008 and missed. The third deadline for the new roof strength standard is now April 30th, 2009.

It was while working with attorney Michael Piuze on the Robbie Lambert vs. General Motors trial in 2000, which resulted in a $25.7 million verdict for rollover and roof crush victim Robbie Lambert, that Lawlor realized that General Motors was not only aware that its roofs would not hold up in a rollover but that General Motors wrote the woefully inadequate standard to ensure that its own vehicles would pass the test.

Lawlor wanted the public to know what she knew and what juries were hearing: American auto manufacturers are fully aware that there is no occupant survival space built into many of their vehicles in the event of a rollover. The problem was that the documents Lawlor unearthed were protected and went back into protective status after trial and were not allowed to be given to the press or others to inform the public.

So Lawlor changed course and began urging attorneys to help her get documents free of their protective claim. She persuaded Alabama attorney Dana Taunton, to ask the judge to declassify the videos and test reports of the early GM drop tests from the late 1960's. Taunton walked out of court with a judge's order in her favor. The visual evidence of the early GM drop tests provided proof that GM knew its roofs would not hold up when subjected to forces in a rollover. Yet these same vehicles passed the government's static strength test FMVSS 216.

Then in 2006, Lawlor with Dallas attorney Todd Tracy, gathered the "roof crush" documents that Lawlor had worked to declassify and wrote Deadly By Design (which is linked to

For Lawlor, it has been a battle every step of the way with setbacks, roadblocks, threats and intimidation from auto manufacturers and others opposed to her mission to change the standard for roof strength and save thousands of lives annually.

NHTSA's proposed rule, which now appears to have been categorically rejected, would only save 13-44 of the 10,000 people that die annually in rollover related accidents. "This," says Lawlor, begs the question, "Who is protecting the people?"

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