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MULTINATIONAL MONITOR

MARCH 1990 - VOLUME 11 - NUMBER 3

N A M E S   I N   T H E   N E W S

Battling Bad Batteries

A recent study conducted under the auspices of the Greater Detroit Society for the Blind estimates that 6,000 to 10,000 persons per year suffer eye injuries resulting from exploding car batteries. The survey, involving thousands of ophthalmologists and hospitals throughout the United States, arrived at these figures with statistical methods the Society claims were "as conservative as possible." The survey results are part of a petition to set safety standards for car batteries that was rejected last fall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The petition was rejected on the grounds that the study included a "significant number of battery-related injuries ... [which] involve skin or eye irritation from acid vapors, spillage and splashing during ordinary battery handling and servicing, and not from battery explosions." The issue was recently revived, however, as the result of a letter sent by Congressman Thomas A. Luken, D-Ohio, to NHTSA, expressing concern "about the large number of injuries that still occur because of exploding batteries."

The document estimates that car battery companies spend between $60 million and $90 million per year on litigation, settlement and awards related to battery explosions and subsequent lawsuits. In a recent battery explosion liability case in California, a plaintiff was awarded $6.5 million in punitive damages and $3.2 million in general damages from Johnson Controls Inc., the manufacturer of Sears, Roebuck, and Co.'s Die Hard battery.

Dr. C.J. Abraham, an author of the petition, visited and interviewed battery companies including Sears, Exide, GNB and Johnson Controls. "All of the battery companies stated to me that because of the highly competitive situation in the aftermarket, no battery company would risk being the first to offer a safe battery that would eliminate all injuries," Abraham said. "Each company recommended that we approach the Department of Transportation and attempt to obtain a safety standard for batteries through a petition."

David Lapp