Product Liability Claim in Motor Vehicle Accidents

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Product Liability, Auto Parts

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Motor vehicle accidents happen every day. Not all the time, safety would be in your hands. But can you accept that your vehicle did not offer you a safe drive and landed up in a mishap? What if a defect in your car turned a relatively uneventful accident into a catastrophic one?

If the accident is unquestionably due to issues in the vehicle’s safety or a failure in occupant protection systems, you could file a claim. The victim is entitled for a product liability claim if he has suffered an injury or any other damages due to the accident. Vehicle manufacturers could be held liable when their defective products or dangerous designs cause harm to the users.

A product liability claim in a motor vehicle accident is a little more thorny than a personal injury lawsuit. But the good news is that it’s within reach if you follow the advice of a competent product liability attorney.

Types of Product Liability

Under product liability law, the plaintiff should prove that the product defect was the reason for his injury/damage. There are three types of product defects which is considered in any product liability lawsuit. Let’s check out what they are.

  1. Manufacturing defects
  2. Design defects
  3. Labeling /warning defects
  4. Breach of warranty

Let’s now get into the various types of auto defects and the product liability claim in car accidents.

Common Motor Vehicle Defects

Product Liability issues may arise in motor vehicle accidents under the below-mentioned circumstances.

  • The manufacturer fails to foresee the chances of a collision while designing an auto component.
  • The manufacturer fails to incorporate adequate safety technology in the vehicle.
  • The manufacturer fails to ensure effective vehicle safety systems in the vehicle.

The following are the common defects reported in motor vehicle accident product liability claims.

Airbag Defects

Airbags act as a cushion and protect the head and chest of the occupants during a collision.  A defective airbag may fail to deploy, deploy late or expel dangerous metal fragments during a crash. Late deployment of an airbag may cause serious eye and head injuries to the driver.

Seat Belt Failure

Seat belts prevent the drivers and passengers from being expelled during an accident. A defective seat belt can become unlatched or tear during an impact and cause injury to the occupants of the vehicle. Seat belt failure can cause catastrophic injuries to the occupants of the vehicle.

Defective Brakes

Defective brakes can make the vehicle uncontrollable, leading to a high-impact collision. Reports suggest that GM issued a recall of certain 2004-2007 Cadillacs associated with brake failure.

Defective Tires

In 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 500 individuals died in auto accidents due to tire failure. Defective tires can explode or cause rollovers leading to catastrophic injuries.

Fuel System Defects

Incorrect position of the fuel tanks, improper fuel filtration system, and welding defects can cause devastating explosions during an accident. In 2017, Mazda recalled thousands of their vehicles from the market after identifying a fuel system defect.

Unexpected Acceleration

Unexpected acceleration is a major issue that ends up in serious accidents. Defects in throttle systems, gas pedals, or floor mats may cause acceleration even if the accelerator is not used by the driver.

Crushing of the Vehicle Roof

The poorly designed roof could crush in on the occupants causing severe spine and head injuries.

Explosion after an Impact

Defective wiring, malfunctioning fuel systems, poor engine compartment design, and defective lithium-ion batteries may lead to fire and explosion of the vehicle after an impact.

Door or hatch failure

During an accident, a malfunctioning latch might cause a door or hatch to pop open. This can result in significant injuries, particularly when the vehicle flips.

Liable Parties in a Motor Vehicle Product Liability Claim

Product liability claims in car accidents could be raised against the below-mentioned parties. In some cases, multiple parties may be held accountable for a defective car. The defendants would vary according to the type of defect in the vehicle and the specific circumstances of the case.

  1. Vehicle Manufacturers
  2. Parts manufacturers and suppliers
  3. Dealers and retailers
  4. Distributors
  5. Vehicle renting companies

When the buyer adds devices that were not originally a part of the vehicle, the claim becomes more complicated.

Product Liability Law in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Strict product liability laws are enforced throughout all US States. Motor vehicle accidents involving product liability claims are governed by individual states. As far as product liability is concerned, there is no federal law common for all states. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal regulatory agency that controls the manufacture and marketing of motor vehicles in the US.

The statute of limitations to file the lawsuit is different for each state. For instance, the statute of limitation in Florida is four years from the date of injury. A plaintiff could pursue a product liability lawsuit in a motor vehicle accident under any of the three possible theories of liability.

  1. Negligence

The theory of negligence could help in accident claims where the vehicle had a manufacturing or design defect that was not looked into by the manufacturer. The negligent action of the manufacturer caused injury to the plaintiff. In claims establishing negligence, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove that the manufacturer was negligent.

Most of the US states follow the comparative negligence law. The contribution of the plaintiff in the accident in comparison with the vehicle defect is considered for fixing the amount of compensation.

Some states, like Texas, follow the modified negligence rule where the plaintiff should be 50% or less at fault in the accident caused by a defective vehicle.

  1. Breach of express or implied warranty

Another ground for a product liability claim in a motor vehicle accident is when the automobile does not meet the standards established by the warranty. This is called a breach of express warranty. A claim could also be filed when the implied warranty of merchantability is breached by the manufacturer. It is the guarantee given to the buyer that the automobile does not have design defects, manufacturing defects, or improper labels.

  1. Strict liability

In car accidents involving product liability claims, the defendants are strictly liable, and there is no need to prove the fault. However, the claim could be defended to an extent if the respondent establishes that the vehicle or the defective part was used carelessly or despite knowing of the defect.

The following damages may be covered in a defective motor vehicle accident lawsuit.

  • Medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Expenses to replace the vehicle
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent disability
  • Punitive damages
  • Wrongful death

Proving Liability in the Claim

To establish a product liability claim in an automobile accident, it must be proved that a defect in the vehicle either caused the accident or accelerated the accident.

It should be evident that the defective product resulted in injury or damage to the plaintiff. For instance, when the airbag fails to deploy during a head-on collision, it may result in severe facial and head injuries in the victim.

In some cases, it is very tough to prove that the defective vehicle is associated with the injury of the plaintiff. Such claims may need careful analysis of a product liability lawyer who would substantiate the claim with the help of the medical records of the plaintiff.

If the plaintiff borrowed someone else’s defective motor vehicle and ended up in an accident, he is still entitled to the claim.

If the plaintiff had a car crash with a defective vehicle driven by another driver, he may establish the product liability and pursue the claim.

When an accident involves both a negligent driver and a defective car, the plaintiff is entitled to pursue a personal injury claim against the negligent driver and a product liability claim against the vehicle manufacturer.

Key Evidence in a Product Liability Claim

  1. Photograph the accident details
  2. Preserve the parts of the vehicle after the accident
  3. Seek immediate medical attention after any motor vehicle accident
  4. Discuss the pain and injury you sustain with the physician
  5. If the other driver’s vehicle has a defect, send a preservation letter so that they would preserve the suspected parts of their vehicle
  6. Any warranties, instructions, or warnings included with the vehicle should be preserved
  7. Obtain the name and contact information of the person who witnessed the accident
  8. Do not try for an immediate settlement
  9. Get the help of an attorney for product liability

Motor Vehicle Recalls

A motor vehicle, after hitting the market, if identified as defective, may be recalled by the manufacturer itself. In some instances, consumer complaints may lead to an investigation by the NHTSA. If found to have a manufacturing defect or defective design, the vehicle may be recalled from the market.

Manufacturers like BMW, Audi, Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi have recalled their products from the market due to failure in manufacture and design.

On December 5, 2019, Takata announced a recall of 1.4 million US cars designed between 1995 and 2000. The cars were recalled due to older driver’s-side airbag inflators, which were found to deploy too slowly or rupture depending on the amount of moisture in the inflator. The recall was made based on the study done by the NHTSA.

Final Thoughts

We should be mindful that the safety ratings received by a car manufacturer from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other agencies are not the end of the line. These ratings need not reflect how safe your vehicle would help you during a crash.

Most of the safety regulations continue to lag behind what auto manufacturers could offer in terms of safety technology and functionality. Recalls of defective vehicles are never a solution to the accidents caused by them. In fact, most of the vehicle recalls are the outcomes of accident complaints from users.

If you doubt that there was a defect in your vehicle that turned your life upside down, consult a product liability attorney and file a lawsuit. Never fail to report your injuries and pain to the physician or the ER as it may serve as the frontline evidence for your product liability claim.

Even minute nuances of your injury may turn hefty when it comes to proving that a defect in the vehicle accelerated the accident. A dynamic medical record review company could detangle the medical charts of the plaintiff and establish how the injury is related to the defective vehicle.

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MedLegal360 is a specialized author in medical-legal matters, providing clear, authoritative insights on healthcare legislation and personal injury litigation for professionals and the curious.

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