Bill #A04470: A License to Kill

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On February 4th of this year, a bill was introduced that will redefine a car dealer’s duty of care. Prior to this bill, a dealer had a duty of care to a consumer to thoroughly inspect a vehicle and certify that it is “road-worthy”, which meant that a vehicle for sale had been checked for open safety recalls and missing airbags, among other things. Now, in the event this bill passes, a dealer can simplify their own lives and free their conscience by endangering consumers. It is currently illegal for car dealers to sell dangerous used cars with unrepaired safety recalls. However, with this legislation, if a vehicle contains recalled airbags, such as the deadly, exploding Takata airbags, the dealer can simply REMOVE them from the car, instead of replacing the airbags with safe and functioning ones. Any vehicle with already deployed airbags can be sold to unsuspecting consumers without installing replacement airbags for the next owner. Basically, this bill will shift liability from the dealership to the consumer, will lessen dealerships’ risk of being held accountable for committing fraud, and will prevent dealerships’ loss of millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages when consumers are injured or killed by missing or malfunctioning airbags due to a dealership’s negligence or blatant fraud.

This bill would enact “The Anthony Amoros Law,” named after an 18-year-old who died tragically when he lost control of his newly-purchased car and crashed into a tree along the road. Instead of enacting a law requiring properly functioning airbags to be installed and maintained in all cars, new and used, the law would simply allow dealerships to get away with selling cars that are flat-out missing airbags. Through this shockingly appalling law, a dealership in New York will be permitted to sell cars without airbags, to other 18-year olds who may not be too focused on reading each and every line of a disclosure form, which, by the way, need only be given to the buyer after they have already bought the car and signed the purchase agreement. Therefore, after they are already contractually obligated to take these death traps off the lot, the consumer may only then realize the lack of airbags in their new car, if they happen to see the 10-point font on the disclosure form. Recent immigrants, anyone who speaks English as their second language, or consumers who speak no English at all, will not be granted the assurance that the dealership will explain to them in their native language that the car they are about to buy has no airbags in it. To be sure, any consumer of any age or English proficiency can be tricked into buying cars from dealerships without any knowledge of these disclosures until after they have purchased the car.

This bill’s supporters want consumers to believe that it is functioning as a safety-ensuring measure, when really it is simply making the dealership’s job easier, wherein they have less liability for airbag-less cars, and instead of ensuring a driver’s safety, they are disclaiming any fault. Over 41 million vehicles with 56 million defective Takata airbags are currently under recall, because those air bags can explode when deployed, causing serious injury or even death. More and more cars are being recalled, and legislation allowing dealers to disclaim liability for not fixing the issues, replacing the unsafe parts of the car, and allowing consumers to purchase death traps and drive them off the lot, is becoming more the norm.

With this bill, dealerships in New York will be free from liability for those injuries and deaths by simply removing millions of these airbags without replacing them, leaving millions of consumers without this vital piece of safety. Most states other than New York require dealerships to sell vehicles with functioning airbags or else they will be liable for the resulting injuries (shocking, we know). Failing to replace a missing airbag in those states will lead to criminal and civil liability, fines, the loss of their dealership license, and potentially jail time, not to mention millions of dollars in damages from injuries or deaths from the failure to ensure installed and working airbags. See this story regarding an 18-year old who was tragically killed in the passenger seat of his friend’s airbag-less car, and the resulting $15 million verdict his family was awarded. However, as former NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin said best in a 2014 report, “consumers shouldn’t have to wait for new legislation, a court battle, or a tragedy, to know the car they bought is safe as required by law.”

There are steps we, as consumers, can take to try to protect ourselves, and prevent this law from being enacted. Call your state senator to let them know that you oppose this dangerous anti-consumer legislation. You can look up your senator here. We can also alert local groups involved in community safety and economic justice groups to also contact the legislators.

Whether or not this bill gets passed into law, consumers should be informed on steps they can take to protect themselves to make sure they are making informed decisions regarding the purchase of a vehicle. Before you buy that car, make sure to always get a used car you are considering buying inspected by a skilled mechanic and a reputable auto body shop that you have personally chosen. Knowing that dealerships are steadily become less and less concerned with airbag safety, you should not rely on them to tell you that the car is safe, or that they have personally inspected it, as with this proposed law, the dealership will not be required to provide you with a car containing functioning airbags! Do not trust these sellers and insist on obtaining your own inspection. Be sure to have the mechanic or auto body shop check for signs that the car you are considering buying was ever in a crash that may have deployed the airbags. If the dealership will not let you do that, walk away, as they are clearly hiding something. Another important step to take is to check for safety recalls before you buy that car. As noted above, there are tens of millions of vehicles on the road today under a safety recall. Before you buy a car, obtain its vehicle identification number (“VIN”) and look it up here to see if there are any current safety recalls.

It is very important that we oppose this bill and ensure that it does not pass into law. To quote an expert on the subject, Rosemary Shahan, if this bill passes, these dealerships will be given a “license to kill.” Dealerships should not be able to get away with selling dangerous vehicles to unsuspecting consumers, and be able to walk away from serious future injuries and deaths without a care in the world.