Del Mar resident Paula Lawlor has been called the Erin Brockovich of vehicle roof crush cases. Like Brockovich, Lawlor is tough, tenacious, and passionate about winning justice for victims. Named Consumer Advocate of the Year by the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, Lawlor has worked relentlessly to strengthen a decades-old government standard for vehicle roofs, which she says crumple too easily in rollover accidents, killing or seriously injuring occupants. Lawlor has helped to win big verdicts against automakers in court cases. And she founded the nonprofit People Safe In Rollovers, which two years ago sponsored an emergency summit on the problem in Washington, D.C.
A more stringent federal standard finally was issued last April, which Lawlor believes will save thousands of lives. But the victory may be bittersweet. Like Chrysler, GM is trying to free itself from hundreds of product liability cases filed before it declared bankruptcy. That means victims may never get their day in court, or payments for medical care and lost wages. Lawlor has joined with other consumer advocates to push the White House and Congress to set up a fund to compensate victims.
The mother of seven children from 15 to 30 years old, Lawlor and her family have vacationed in Del Mar since 1990, and, four years ago, made the seaside town their home. Lawlor loves to walk the beach, collecting sand dollars. She also designs jewelry in her spare time. After a trip to France this summer, she will return to Del Mar at a crossroads in her life. Lawlor says she’s ready for something new, but is not sure just what. “In my life, I don’t really search things out,” she says. “They just happen. I’m just open and ready.” (www.peoplesafeinrollovers.org) ANDREA NAVERSEN