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Product Liability Claims for Motor Vehicles

If you’ve been in an accident, you may have a routine accident claim against a driver who was at fault. However, if the accident was exacerbated and your injuries made worse due to your vehicle’s failure to perform as it should have, you may also have a product liability case. You do not have to choose one or the other; you may pursue all legal claims for which you have a reasonable basis for complaint. Even if you were driving a car that was not yours, and whether you were a passenger or driver in the vehicle, you may have grounds for a claim.

Automotive Products Liability Lawyers

Product liability law is derived from torts law. It has foundations in common law and in the Uniform Commercial Code (§§ 2-314 and 2-315). While there are regulations under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with which new vehicles must comply, product liability law is otherwise governed by state law which varies from state to state. Depending on the jurisdiction, product liability claims generally may be based on negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty, each of which have their own elements of proof.

Claims based on strict liability in tort must only require proof that a defective product was manufactured, sold, and caused the injury. Claims based on breach of express warranty require proof that promises made in the contract of sale or a written guarantee regarding quality and characteristics of the vehicle were not kept. Claims may be brought for breach of implied warranty if the vehicle defect is in violation of state minimum standards. Claims based on negligence must show insufficient care was exercised in the course of design, manufacture, and/or assembly.

Claims must be supported by evidence of the product’s defect, which in the case of motor vehicles typically arise from design or manufacturing. In design defects, the product was designed in a way that would create unnecessary risk of harm to the user─ no matter how it was manufactured and assembled. In manufacturing defect cases, despite being properly designed, some act or omission in the course of assembly has caused the product to not function as it was designed to. A third source of defect is defective marketing, or “warning defects,” which may arise when a manufacturer is aware of a problem but fails to advise consumers through warning labels or instructions.

In order to be successful, your claim must prove three things:

  • You were injured or suffered a loss;
  • A vehicle in your accident was defectively manufactured or designed; and
  • The vehicle’s manufacturing or design defect was the cause of your injury.

Note that “a vehicle” may have been a vehicle that hit you, or the car you were in. In order to pursue your case, you must ensure the vehicle and its components remain intact so that it can be inspected for potential liability issues.

Common Areas of Automotive Defects

A recent article on ABC News highlighted the number of cars on the road and in the used car market with unaddressed safety recall issues; citing data from a recent Carfax study, over 2 million of these vehicles were offered for sale online in 2012 alone. Car recalls largely result from consumer complaints made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation, either after a sufficient volume of complaints, or indication of a significant safety issue. With 14.3 million cars recalled in 2012, the number of people potentially exposed to risk from safety issues that have yet to result in a recall is staggering. What’s worse, the auto industry’s deliberate choice to put cost-cutting above consumer safety has been documented time and again, ever since 1965 when attorney Ralph Nader wrote “Unsafe at Any Speed,” exposing known design defects in American automobiles.

Specific areas of liability concern include:

  • Stability issues / Rollover risk (particularly due to design defects in sports utility vehicles)
  • Roof crush risk (relating to the integrity of roof structure and pillar reinforcement)
  • Defective gas pedals (resulting in unintended acceleration)
  • Seat belt defects (including false latching)
  • Airbags (not deploying when needed; deploying when not needed)
  • Tires (sidewall failure, tread separation, unsafe manufacture specifications)
  • For motorcycles, wobbling issues at high speeds

Who is Liable?

In product liability cases, any and all parties along the chain of manufacture and distribution are potentially liable for damages. In the case of motor vehicles, this includes the manufacturer (auto industry giants such as Ford, Chevrolet, and Kia), parts manufacturers (such as the company that makes the airbags or seat belts), the car dealership (or automobile supply shop, in the event of an after-market part), a middleman or shipping company, and (possibly) a used car dealer. In some cases, you may be able to join with other injured people and pursue a class-action lawsuit for a product liability issue. You may pursue legal claims against all parties for whom you have a reasonable basis for complaint.

Protect Your Interests by Choosing an Experienced Product Liability Attorney

The Law Offices of Craig R. Zobel have deep, multi-jurisdiction courtroom experience in handling all types of motor vehicle injury cases and the product liability issues that arise from them. Mr. Zobel has successfully represented clients in product liability cases involving crashworthiness, rollover, occupant containment, roof crush, restraints, and automotive design issues, as well as class action lawsuits. If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident and you believe defective design or manufacture may have played a role, contact our firm right away. We offer free initial consultations, and flexible contingency fee arrangements.

Resources

Carfax offers a free recall status check by VIN number here.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers information about recalls and auto safety.

Safercar.gov is an informational resource from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration where you can search for recalls. This should be searchable by VIN number across all manufacturers in late 2014.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also offers recall and defects information on their website, as well as a list of known safety problems and issues.

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is an industry trade group.