Class Calls Keyless Autos Dangerous

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Thirteen people have died and many more injured because cars with keyless fobs do not automatically turn off after the fob is removed, according to a federal class action against 10 major automakers.
     Lead plaintiff Richard Draeger sued 10 automobile manufacturing groups and their associated research and design companies, including Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda and Volkswagen on Wednesday.
     “In a number of incidents, drivers have parked their affected vehicles inside their garages and removed the keyless fobs, only to later discover that the engines never actually turned off. As a result, deadly carbon monoxide – often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because it is a colorless, odorless gas – can fill enclosed spaces and spread to the attached homes. The results have been at least 13 documented deaths and many more serious injuries requiring hospitalization – all from carbon monoxide poisoning. Those injured by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the defect include drivers, their families, other occupants of the residence where the vehicle is left running in the garage, neighbors, and first responders,” according to the 141-page complaint.
     Keyless fobs allow drivers to start a car without inserting a key. So long as the driver has the device in a pocket, a button on the dashboard or center console starts or stops the engine. They have become increasingly popular in recent years.
     Automakers sell keyless fobs as “the ultimate driving convenience.” But Draeger and 27 named co-plaintiffs, from four states, say the fobs are dangerous because the engine can keep running unattended after the fob is removed.
     “In the name of convenience, and often at an increased purchase price, the automakers created keyless fobs without instituting adequate safeguards, warnings, or other safety features. The automakers failed to properly consider the ramifications of eliminating the physical and psychological connection between the vehicle and physical keys,” the complaint states.
     Many consumers erroneously think the keyless fob works like a key and turns off the engine when removed because they are used to traditional cars with physical keys, according Draeger says. But that’s not how it works. “(A) driver can stop the vehicle, put it in park, exit with the keyless fob, and the vehicles’ engine will still be running no matter how far away the driver goes from the car, and no matter how long the engine is running.”
     Complicating the danger is that automakers design cars to run quietly, making it easy for people to assume the car is off when it is still on. Cars that use keyless fobs are “defective and unsafe” because they do not have a safety feature that will shut down the engine after it has been left running for a certain amount of time, the class claims.
     Some cars do not turn off even when drivers push the start/stop button on the dashboard, the class claims. It says Ford had to recall hundreds of thousands of vehicles, including 2015 models of the Escape and Focus, because of this software glitch.
     Several people have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the automakers, many of which have been settled confidentially, according to the complaint.
     In October 2010, former college professor Mary Rivera sued Toyota, claiming she collapsed in her home and was found barely breathing from carbon monoxide poisoning from her 2008 Lexus EX 350, which did not stop running after she left the car. She survived, but with permanent brain damage, and her longtime partner, Ernest Cordelia Jr., died with 65 percent carbon monoxide poisoning in his blood. Rivera settled for a confidential amount, according to the complaint.
     In June 2011, Kimberlin Nickels filed a wrongful death suit against Toyota for the death of her daughter Chastity Glisson, who was 29 when she died of carbon monoxide poisoning after inadvertently leaving her 2006 Lexus IS 250 on while parked in the attached garage. Her boyfriend Timothy Maddock found her that night, but collapsed from the poisonous gas before he could help her. Both were found the next day, and Maddock survived with critical injuries, according to the complaint.
     The complaint cites many more accounts of injuries and death from carbon monoxide poisoning. It claims that “the number of deaths and injuries are likely greater than reported because only some deaths are reported in the media, and even when deaths are reported, a cause of death is often not given or known.”
     Ford and GM both acknowledged in several patent applications the need to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning associated with use of keyless fobs. Since automakers routinely review patents filed by competitors, the class claims, other automakers also knew about the dangers. But most have done nothing to address the problem, though a recall campaign to install an auto-off feature would be easy to implement, the class claims.
     “Auto-off is not only feasible; it has already been implemented by some of the automakers to prevent the very tragedies described herein,” the complaint states. For example, GM recalled thousands of 2011-2013 model Chevrolet Volts with the defect but has not done so for any of its other vehicles with the same problem, according to the lawsuit.
     Ford installed an auto-off system on its 2014 and 2015 Lincoln MKS vehicles and some of its more recent models that use keyless fobs, but has not issued a recall for older year vehicles with the defect, the complaint states.
     Failing to install the auto-off safety feature on all cars that use keyless fobs “is a material and unreasonable safety defect,” the class claims. It says that sales brochures, marketing materials and car manuals that tout the safety of the cars while concealing the risks are fraudulent.
     None of the roughly 1,500 car models with keyless fobs come with warnings about carbon monoxide poisoning, and none have warning lights or sounds to tell drivers the engine is still on, the class claims.
     Lead plaintiff Draeger says he inadvertently left his 2011 Toyota Prius running after removing the keyless fob twice: once on the driveway and once in the garage. Both times he did not realize the car was on because he could not hear the engine running.
     Plaintiff Michelle Smith says she accidentally left the car running in her driveway and left to run an errand, and her husband panicked when he found the car idling with her nowhere in sight.
     Other plaintiffs tell similar stories. None mention being injured from carbon monoxide poisoning, but all say they would not have bought or leased the cars had they known about the defect.
     A spokesman for Nissan told Courthouse News in an email that the company does not comment on pending litigation.
     Volkswagen said the company would not comment.
     A Hyundai representative said the company’s legal department has not received the lawsuit and cannot comment.
     Ford told Courthouse News in an email that “Ford takes the safety of our customers very seriously; the keyless ignition system has proven to be a safe and reliable innovative feature that has been well-received by customers. Ford vehicles equipped with keyless ignition alert drivers when the driver’s door is open and the vehicle’s engine is running.”
     Representatives for defendants Bentley, Honda, Toyota, GM, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Kia did not immediately return requests for comment.
     The plaintiffs seek certification of nationwide and designated subclasses, declaratory judgment that the affected cars are defective, an injunction ordering the automakers to notify class members about the defect and prohibiting them from sales material advertising them as safe until they have been fixed, and disgorgement and exemplary damages for 31 causes of action, including violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, unjust enrichment, unfair competition, deceit and common law fraud, false advertising, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability.
     Lead counsel is Elaine Byszewski, with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro of Pasadena. Here are the defendants: Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.; Calty Design Research, Inc.; Ford Motor Company; Nissan North America Inc.; Nissan Design America Inc.; American Honda Motor Co. Inc.; Honda R and D Americas Inc; FCA US LLC; General Motors Company; BMW of North America LLC; Designworks USA Inc; Volkswagen Group of America Inc; Bentley Motors Inc.; Mercedes-Benz USA LLC; Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America Inc.; Hyundai Motor America Inc.; Hyundai America Technical Center Inc.; and Kia Motors America, Inc.

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