Appeals Court Rules for Chrysler on Safety Issue
2 November 1998Appeals Court Rules for Chrysler on Safety Issue
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Oct. 30 -- The federal government cannot change the rules in the middle of the game -- that's the message a federal appellate court sent the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today overturning a lower court decision ordering the recall of 91,000 1995 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus vehicles. Chrysler will move to overturn the $800,000 fine levied by the lower court, which Chrysler believes is academic, in light of the court's ruling. In a decision released this morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the government cannot apply new testing requirements to vehicles after they have already been manufactured. "Chrysler said right from the beginning that this was not a safety issue, but a legal issue. Safety standards and test procedures must be objective. Automakers cannot be forced to guess what the rules require and then be sanctioned for not guessing correctly," said Lew Goldfarb, Chrysler Associate General Counsel. The court agreed. In its ruling the court stated: "Chrysler might have satisfied NHTSA with the exercise of extraordinary intuition or with the aid of a psychic, but these possibilities are more than the law requires." This case involved the testing of the seat belt anchor in Stratus and Cirrus sedans. Not a single anchor has failed in the field and obviously no one has been injured. Indeed, the lower court found that the anchor -- which secures the rear seat belt to the vehicle's structure -- fully complied with federal safety standards when Chrysler manufactured the vehicles. Nonetheless, the lower court ordered Chrysler to recall the vehicles, finding that NHTSA could change test procedures without advance notice. The court of appeals disagreed, and reversed the lower court's recall decision. In fact, in the appellate court ruling, Chief Judge Edwards noted: "There is no claim here that the vehicles in question suffer from safety defects." The government changed the test procedures and tried to apply these new procedures retroactively by ordering a recall of the vehicles based on the tests. While proceeding with the recall, Chrysler challenged the manner in which safety standards were arbitrarily altered -- a challenge that was joined by other automakers when the entire industry filed briefs on Chrysler's behalf. "This ruling represents a significant step forward for auto safety because it will bring clarity and certainty to federal safety standards, and will allow automakers to be confident they won't be punished for following the rules," said Chrysler's Goldfarb. "We are gratified by the Court's decision to reaffirm the important principle that safety standards must be consistent in their meaning and fair in their application."