Suzuki and Consumers Union (CU) have agreed on the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Suzuki after a 1988 CU test on the Suzuki Samurai led the consumer group to judge the vehicle Not Acceptable. The Suzuki Samurai was the only SUV of the four tested on the CU track that tipped up severely and repeatedly, according to the group. After it was deemed Not Acceptable, Suzuki did not sue or change the product. It was not until 1996, one year after it stopped selling the Suzuki Samurai, that a lawsuit was filed against CU, charging the consumer group had deliberately tipped up the vehicle to generate a sensational story to sell magazines.
CU said it continues standing behind its' testing and report on the Suzuki Samurai and has never issued a retraction, correction or payment to Suzuki. Over the years, an abundance of evidence and internal documents have shown knowledge of Suzuki Samurai rollovers, and the lawsuit only served to discredit CU, according to the consumer group. Back in 1983, General Motors owned a small percent of Suzuki and chose not to market the vehicle in the U.S., with a note from a GM executive at the time saying there were legitimate engineering concerns (e.g., crashworthiness and rollover) which, if adequately addressed, could significantly alter the design of the vehicle with the likely result that the price and marketability would be jeopardized.
Even Suzuki's internal documents show the automaker was aware of Samurai rollover problems but continued to market the small SUV. A July 14, 1985 memo stated, It is imperative that we develop a crisis plan that will primarily deal with the roll' factor. Because of the narrow wheel base, similar to Jeep, the car is bound to turn over. In seven different states in 1988, attorney generals alleged advertising for Suzuki Samurais was misleading and falsely misrepresented its safety, which the automaker settled by paying a $200,00 fine and agreeing to include potential rollover risks warnings in future advertising.
Over the years, over 200 Suzuki Samurai rollover lawsuits have been settled and Suzuki's own expert witnesses testified the automaker was aware of 213 deaths and 8,200 injuries involving Suzuki Samurai rollovers. Since the company agreed to settle the lawsuits for monetary damages, as part of the agreement plaintiffs were required not to disclose any information about their cases to the public. Even though CU was eventually the target of Suzuki's lawsuit, at least nine news organizations besides the consumer group either published or broadcast reviews of the Suzuki Samurai rollover problems in the 1980s.
In 2000, the trial judge in the Suzuki vs. CU lawsuit dismissed the case after reviewing all the evidence and concluding the record did not support the charges, but Suzuki appealed. In 2003, despite objections of nearly half of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was sent back for a trial. Judge Alex Kozinski wrote, If consumers are purchasing an SUV they will trust with their lives, aren't they entitled to know that the Samurai tipped repeatedly in human-driven tests while the other SUVs didn't tip once?
According to CU, the group has been sued 15 times and has never lost a case or paid money to settle. Kozinski believes that If Suzuki can get to trial on evidence this flimsy, no consumer group in the country will be safe from assault by hordes of handsomely paid lawyers deploying scorched-earth litigation tactics. Scorched-earth litigation is referring to charges that Suzuki singled out and punished CU for publishing findings despite also being notified by GM, federal judges, customers filing accident reports and at least nine other news organizations that the Samurai had stability problems.
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