Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
June 18, 2018

Keyless Cars and Carbon Monoxide Deaths: Who Is Liable?

Pushing a button rather than turning a key to start a car has become the new norm in the auto industry. While starting the engine with just the push of a button can seem convenient to busy drivers, it can also pose serious health risks – namely, accidentally leaving the car running. A combination of keyless cars and hybrid vehicles that are virtually silent when parked is a recipe for potential carbon monoxide poisoning. Find out who might be liable for these injuries and deaths.

The Danger of Keyless Cars

Since 2006, data has linked keyless cars to 28 deaths and 45 injuries due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. Some victims survived only to suffer permanent brain damage from the poisonous gas, which is odorless and colorless. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a bigger risk with keyless vehicles because drivers may mistakenly believe the engine is off or that it will automatically shut off when they exit the vehicle with the key fob. This is not the case with most keyless cars.

More than 50% of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. each year are keyless. Sadly, it seems that dozens of deaths related to keyless cars have not swayed the auto industry. Despite pushes for new features such as audible alerts or automatic engine shut-off from the Society of Automotive Engineers, vehicle manufacturers are still supporting the keyless engine design, touting it for its convenience without spreading awareness of the possible risks. Had automakers installed such features seven years ago, when the Society first made the suggestion, it may have prevented many serious injuries and fatalities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also proposed changes to keyless cars in an effort to improve safety. The NHTSA suggested a federal rule that would require a software change to help prevent people from unknowingly keeping their engines running – a change that would only cost pennies per vehicle for manufacturers. Automakers resisted the rule, however, and the NHTSA has since not pursued the subject. Federal organizations now leave it up to individual automakers to install safety features voluntarily.

Holding Someone Liable

Those living with permanent brain damage and the family members of people who did not survive carbon monoxide poisoning from keyless cars are searching for answers. They are taking their cases to the civil justice system in the hopes of achieving not only financial compensation for their losses but industry changes that would help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. According to one wrongful death claim, however, big auto manufacturers are rejecting proposals for warning signals when a driver leaves a car running.

One car company in particular has accounted for almost half of all carbon-monoxide related keyless car deaths and injuries in the country; Toyota. Despite the brand stating that its keyless vehicles meet or exceed all federal safety standards, it is Toyota models that have been at the center of these controversies for the last 12 years. Other companies, such as Ford, have taken a more proactive approach to prevention with new features such as an automatic engine shut-off after 30 minutes if the fob isn’t in the vehicle.

It may be possible for victims to hold Toyota or another vehicle manufacturer legally responsible for carbon monoxide poisoning in keyless car cases. If the manufacturer reasonably should have known about this risk yet failed to take steps to prevent injuries and deaths, it might be liable for damages. The manufacturer could also be accountable according to the rules of product liability if an investigation finds that the vehicle contained a dangerous design or production error. It’s important for victims to work with carbon monoxide lawyers to settle these complex cases.

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