When Tom Murray was asked to represent the family of a Cleveland, Ohio minister in a coma since his Ford Crown Victoria suddenly accelerated out of control from his driveway and crashed into a neighbor’s house, he was astonished to discover that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had blamed driver error for similar sudden accelerations that had killed or injured thousands of people, although drivers universally insisted the brakes had failed to stop the automobile. Baffled by the government’s decision, Mr. Murray hired a retired FBI agent on the condition of anonymity to investigate what Ford knew about the cause of this automotive behavior. “Mr. X” reported that Ford engineers knew that electronic malfunctions were behind this automotive behavior, that the entire industry had rushed untested electronics to market, but had decided it would be too costly to admit the mistake. Murray was horrified at the thought of a gigantic industry covering up a problem that every year was destroying hundreds of lives just in the United States, and decided to accept the minister’s case. This was the beginning of fifteen years of grueling litigation with Ford and other carmakers during which the long concealed truth about runaway car crashes gradually emerged.
Drawing on the testimony of car company representatives and previously concealed car company studies, reports and documents, Deadly by Design tells the untold story of how the federal government aided and abetted the car industry in covering up one of the most destructive problems in automotive history. The author tells the story from different but related angles. The first section follows the many twists and turns of the minister’s case to its dramatic conclusion ten years after it began. In the section that ends with a landmark decision by the Second U.S. Circuit written by Sonia Sotomayor, now a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Murray focuses on how he and his legal associate, Molly O’Neill, fought a series of legal battles with Ford to uncover the truth behind this often lethal automotive behavior. A third part, entitled The Color of Corruption, exposes for the first time how the federal government disregarded federal law and allowed carmakers to conceal a deadly safety defect.
The final section entitled Toyota and the Unraveling of a Cover-Up describes how the federal government turned a blind eye to overwhelming evidence of a defect in Toyota’s throttle control electronics until a frantic 9-1-1 call from a runaway Lexus driven by a California Patrolman and his family, who perished moments after the call, led to Congressional hearings that set in motion events surrounding sudden accelerations that are still unfolding, and which may finally bring an end to what the author calls “a secret game of automobile roulette” that carmakers for many years have been playing with the lives and safety of people.
While each novella-length section contains eye openers of its own, the biggest surprise may be that the importance of this pioneering work exceeds the sum of its many shocking revelations.