[EDITORIALS]Unsafe Means UncompetitiveA court ruling that blamed an automobile manufacturer for a vehicle accident that resulted from so-called "unintended sudden acceleration" is sparking both concern and satisfaction. The Seoul District Court ordered the manufacturer on Sunday to compensate a valet parking employee who was driving the car, saying the accident resulted from vehicle defects rather than driver error. The court reasoned that the employee was an experienced driver and the vehicle had an extensive history of malfunctions.
In past court cases having to do with sudden acceleration, the driver had to prove that a given accident resulted from a defect in the vehicle. But the Seoul District Court sided with consumers in Sunday's ruling by saying auto manufacturers should prove that there was no defect in the vehicle, since drivers tend to lack detailed knowledge on the workings of automobiles. While the case will be reviewed, the district court's ruling will probably affect dozens of sudden acceleration cases in the docket as well as other related cases.
Worldwide, corporations are being held responsible for accidents that result while using their products. Although it could not determine the reasons behind one unintended sudden acceleration case, a U.S. court found General Motors responsible in a case in the late 1990s. In this country, an electronics company was found liable when a television set exploded last year.
Korean companies have made efforts toward product safety. The TV manufacturer added a fire-resistant case. Toy manufacturers strengthened safety standards of their products. Voluntary product recalls by corporations increased from just three in 1999 to 13 so far this year, but many manufacturers still do not meet accepted international safety standards.
Safety comes at a cost, but corporations cannot always run away from their responsibility to ensure consumer safety. A new law goes into effect next July increasing manufacturers' liability for safety problems. Korean companies were given two years to prepare for the law's implementation. They should realize that without adequately taking consumer safety into consideration, they will not be able to survive the borderless competition in the globalized world.