A law suit filed in California (as reported in USA Today this week) concerns a fatal crash in 2007, allegedly initiated by a broken steering rod in a 1991 Toyota 4Runner.
The crash occurred in Idaho; why the suit was filed in California, maybe a lawyer would know.
But the reported facts of this case bear examination.
Such media reports invariably refer to crashes involving so many injuries and/or so many deaths.
In this case, the driver, an 18-year old named Michael Levi Stewart, was killed. His three passengers were injured.
According to the Idaho State Police who investigated the crash, none of the four occupants were wearing seat belts at the time.
Now, it is possible to die in a car crash while wearing a seat belt. You're many times less likely to do so, but it does happen - if the crash is severe enough, or if you are extremely unlucky.
Without more extensive knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the crash, it is mere speculation as to what might have happened if the occupants had been belted.
But given that three of the unbelted occupants were only injured, it is not a huge stretch to suggest that the driver would probably have also survived had he been wearing a seat belt.
The essence of the law suit is that Toyota had dragged its heels in issuing a recall on potentially faulty steering rods on these vehicles, although how much responsibility a car maker bears for a vehicle that is 16 years old must surely be an arguable point.
Maybe the outcome of the case won't be affected by the fact that a young man died.
But I bet it will be.
And that's just plain wrong.
It is a tragedy that the young man died.
If Toyota is at fault, either by the letter or the spirit of the law, the company should be punished.
But it seems pretty obvious that even if the broken steering rod might have caused the CRASH, it almost certainly did not cause the DEATH of the young man.
Nobody in this day and age could possibly be unaware of the life-saving benefits of seat belts.
If Toyota has any responsibility for the steering rods on 16-year old vehicles, then 18-year old drivers - and their parents - have equal or greater responsibility to ensure those vehicles are driven with due care and caution.
As long as Americans retain their cavalier attitude towards seat belts (see my previous blog about how TV and movies treat belt use), and as long as their courts keep refusing to assign proper responsibility to those who choose not to wear them, American car crash fatality statistics will continue to be significantly worse on a proportional basis than those of more enlightened countries.