Car Without Starter Interlock Device Results in Amputation

    This case involves a man who was visiting the home of a friend who had just purchased a new car. The man’s friend asked him if he wanted to see the new car with the engine running. The man’s friend reached through the driver’s side window and started the motor. The man’s friend did not apply the clutch pedal but noted that the parking brake was on. The car, which was in gear and did not have a starter interlock device, lurched forward. The plaintiff, who was standing in a space between the front of the car and his friend’s house, suffered a crush injury to his leg when the car “lurched” forward unexpectedly. The plaintiff had to eventually have his leg amputated.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • Is a car without a starter safety switch unreasonably dangerous if someone starts the car while it is in gear?

    Expert Witness Response

    Starter safety switches were first installed on manual transmission cars as early as the 1970’s and were widely used in both U.S. and foreign cars. There is a chance that a manual transmission car will “lurch forward” several inches if a starter safety device is not installed on it and the car’s motor is started with the car in gear even though the clutch is depressed. The starter safety switch works by requiring that a driver fully depress the clutch before a manual transmission car can start into gear. The starter safety switch blocks electrical power from reaching the starter if the car’s gear is not set to “park” or “neutral.” If a car has a starter safety switch, and the ignition key is in the start position, the switch will transmit power to the starter if the gear selector is in the proper place. The starter safety switch is usually located on the transmission locator lever or on the steering column. A starter safety switch is needed because a manual transmission car will start when in gear and may begin moving forward as soon as the ignition key is turned. Due to the manual transmission, the car can be started with the clutch disengaged but this causes the car to “lurch” forward quickly and then stall. This type of movement can cause an accident when someone who turns on the engine and isn’t prepared for any movement from the vehicle. The practice of installing a starter safety switch to prevent a manual transmission car from moving if someone reached in and started the motor when the car was in gear is very common in the automobile manufacturing industry. This switch is usually needed to prevent the danger of the car moving and hurting someone when it is in any gear other than neutral or park.

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