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Last month, a 23-year-old Indiana man died after trying to rescue his 3-year-old daughter from a retention pond at an apartment complex. According to police, the man parked his Pontiac G6, but left it running while he got out to talk to a friend. His daughter followed, but he told her to get back in the car. In doing so, the child apparently knocking the gear shift out of park, sending the car backward onto a snow-covered embankment and into a pond. The man jumped in to save his daughter; she survived, he did not.

The gear shift isn’t supposed to just move out of park; the brakes must be applied first. Then, how was the little girl able to knock it out of park?

In 2014, there was a recall notice on the 2008 Pontiac G6 due to a circuit problem that could cause the gear shift to move out of park without applying the brake. According to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) records, the necessary repair was never performed on the vehicle.

This tragedy underscores a troubling fact: Incidents like this are far too common; a third of all vehicles on our roadways have recalls that have never been repaired, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Recalls are issued for two reasons: a safety defect exists or there is a violation of a federal standard. Once a recall has been determined, the auto manufacturer is obligated to notify vehicle owners. This is usually done by sending the owners a postcard urging them to contact dealers to schedule repairs, which are free. However, it is hard to locate the owner if he/she has moved or the vehicle has been resold. But a lot of people simply disregard the recall letter, especially if their car doesn’t show signs of the problem described.

While not every affected vehicle will have a problem, it is important that you do not ignore any recalls issued for your vehicle(s). You not only have an obligation to have the vehicle repaired, but you are liable for any problems that could have been prevented had the repair/replacement had been performed.

The most effective means to receive timely recall notices is to sign up online for automatic recall notifications from the NHTSA at safercar.gov. All you need is your vehicle identification number (VIN) to do an online check for open recalls.

It is also important to note that if you are looking to purchase a used car, you should check for recalls. If there was a recall, contact your dealer or the automaker’s customer service line to determine if the vehicle you plan to purchase was fixed under the recall. This can be determined by the VIN. You can also search the VIN on many automaker websites. Once you buy a used car, it is also a good idea to register it with the manufacturer via its website to put the car back into the recall-communication loop.

Never take safety for granted; don’t ignore auto recalls.

Mark M. Bello is an attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. He is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation, a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.

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