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When Can You Sue a Vehicle Manufacturer?


Damaged car with passenger door open and view of deployed airbags

In some auto accident cases, the responsible party may not be the driver of the vehicle or another motorist. Vehicle defects can cause catastrophic accidents, leading to serious injuries and in some cases death.

Ideally, motorists will learn about defects in their vehicle and can get them addressed or fixed before a tragic accident occurs. Unfortunately, dangerous vehicle defects may not become present or immediately recognizable to motorists and manufacturers alike until a series of serious accidents occur that are results of the defect.

When a defective vehicle component causes a person’s injury, they can pursue a product liability claim against the manufacturer. A product liability claim can help an injured victim recover compensation from a vehicle manufacturer for producing a vehicle with defects that caused the victim’s injuries. Defects can occur in the design, manufacturing, or shipping process of the vehicle.

Examples of common vehicle defects include:

  • Accelerator breaking or sticking
  • Airbags that deploy or do not deploy under right conditions
  • Child safety seat LATCH system anchor failure
  • Doors that do not latch properly
  • Faulty tires
  • Ignition switch malfunction
  • Leaking gas tanks or fuel lines
  • Seat back malfunction
  • Seat belt failure
  • Suddenly breaking steering components
  • Weak vehicle structure (learn more about the “crashworthiness” of vehicles below)

How to Prove Liability in a Defective Vehicle Case

Vehicle defect cases are not treated exactly the same as personal injury claims. In personal injury claims, plaintiffs generally have to prove that the at-fault party’s negligent or careless actions caused the accident that resulted in the sustained injuries. Product liability cases, such as vehicle defect cases, adhere to the strict liability doctrine, which does not require the plaintiff to prove that the vehicle manufacturer acted careless in the manufacturing of the vehicle.

In order to bring a product liability claim against a vehicle manufacturer, an injured plaintiff will have to prove that:

  • The vehicle defect was the proximate cause of their injuries;
  • The vehicle was used properly and for its intended purposes, as defined by the manufacturer, when the accident that resulted in the injuries occurred; and
  • The defect was present when the plaintiff purchased the vehicle and no significant modifications or changes in condition to the vehicle occurred thereafter that could affect the performance of the vehicle.

An important note regarding defective vehicle claims is that you may be precluded from claiming strict liability if you were previously aware of the defect (such as through a vehicle recall notice) and continued to operate your vehicle without getting the defect fixed.

What is Crashworthiness?

Vehicle manufacturers conduct safety tests on every vehicle they produce. It is the duty of manufacturers to produce vehicles that can protect motorists and their passengers in the event of a collision, which is a reasonably possible occurrence in the routine operation of a vehicle. Many injuries from auto accidents are unavoidable, but a vehicle should contain safety features and functions that work to minimize injuries and prevent the vehicle from causing additional harm to occupants when a crash occurs.

Seat belts, airbags, and the vehicle’s safety cage are all features that determine a vehicle’s crashworthiness. These safety systems work in unison to provide protection for occupants throughout the entirety of an accident, no matter where the impact occurs on the vehicle. A crashworthy vehicle minimizes crush inside the vehicle, provides occupant restraint, prevents ejection from the vehicle, and distributes and dissipates the force of a crash. Manufacturers have a duty to produce vehicles that will protect its occupants and can be held liable if their vehicle design fails to do so.

Product liability claims involving vehicle crashworthiness can be difficult to prove and oftentimes require the help of several automobile safety and crash experts, vehicle design experts, and other expert witnesses. Thomas J. Henry has a proven track record of handling vehicle defect cases, and we retain only the best expert witnesses from across the United States to provide expert testimony for our clients’ cases.

History of Deadly Vehicle Defects

In recent years, the United States has experienced several large scale vehicle recalls due to defects that proved to be deadly time and time again. In 2016 alone, the total number of recall campaigns reached a record-breaking 927. Here are three of the largest recalls that have been issued in recent years in the United States:

  • General Motors ignition switch recall
    • Six million vehicles were included in the recall
    • At least 124 fatalities and 275 injuries were linked to vehicles with the faulty ignition switches
  • Takata Corporation airbag recall
    • More than 42 million vehicles containing 70 million airbags were included in the recall, and the number continues to rise
    • At least 11 deaths and more than 180 injuries in the United States were linked to the dangerous and defective airbags
  • Bridgestone Corporation Firestone tire recall
    • Approximately 6.5 million tires were included in the recall
    • At least 46 fatalities were linked to the defective tires

Contact an Experienced Vehicle Defect Attorney

If you were injured due to a defective vehicle, call Thomas J. Henry today. We understand how daunting of a task it is to take on a large vehicle manufacturing corporation, but we have experience doing so. Our firm lead the charge against GM during their ignition switch recall, representing many clients who sustained serious injuries in accidents involving their defective vehicles. Our lawyers are available 24/7, nights and weekends to take your call and evaluate your claim. Contact us today for a free case review.

Contact Us for a Free Case Review

info@tjhlaw.com

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