Automotive Product Defects Law

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 Automotive Product Liability

Automotive product liability generally falls under the category of product liability. According to products liability law, products that are sold into the stream of commerce are required to meet the ordinary expectations of consumers. What this means is that the product should work according to how a common purchaser would assume the product to work.

When a product is defective, or is considered in some way to be dangerous to the average consumer, the incident could result in a product liability lawsuit. In terms of a defective vehicle, this would be a defective car lawsuit. Automotive product liability laws in general will be further discussed below.

Generally speaking, a product liability claim involves a plaintiff filing against a defendant in order to hold them responsible for providing a defective or dangerous product. This product must have  injured the plaintiff when they used it according to the manufacturer’s directions and warnings. The defendant is most commonly one of the following parties responsible for providing the product to consumers:

  •  Distributor;
  • Wholesaler;
  • Manufacturer; or
  • Retailer.

It is important to note that in some cases, it is not relevant whether the seller actually caused the defect. What actually matters is if the retailer was part of the supply chain that provided the products to consumers. This would be known as a strict product liability lawsuit. A plaintiff may also bring a claim for negligence, or a breach of express or implied warranties.

Types of Automotive Product Defects

A defective automotive is a specific type of defective product, as previously mentioned. Defective products could be defined as those that are unreasonably dangerous when being used, for its intended purpose, without any alterations or interference on the part of the consumer. Defective products can cause injury to a person in the following ways:

  • Design defect;
  • Manufacturing defect; and/or
  • A marketing defect.

In terms of an automotive product defects case, most states include trucks, vans, buses, and motorcycles. Common claims for defective motor vehicles involve a vehicle failing to perform according to the proper industry standards. In some cases, the defects do not appear until later on. An example of this would be when the vehicle has already been operated, and has had some usage. This specific type of motor vehicle defect is commonly referred to as a latent defect.

A motor vehicle defect may also refer to any flaws that create safety hazards, or could result in the injury of the vehicle’s driver or passenger(s). By this definition, aesthetic flaws are not generally the subject of a defective motor vehicle claim. An example of aesthetic flaws would be a botched paint job, or a misplaced decal.

Some examples of the most common examples of automotive product defects include, but may not be limited to:

  • Brake and gas pedal defects, such as pedals getting stuck or jammed;
  • Safety equipment defects, such as safety belt or airbag failure;
  • Cooling, fuel, and exhaust systems flaws;
  • Misaligned steering mechanisms;
  • Various structural problems, such as defects associated with the vehicle’s frame, body, transmission, or engine assembly; and
  • Electrical and/or computer issues, such as defective keyless fobs.

These are considered to be dangerous defects because they could lead to severe injury. Some examples of the most common vehicle defect injuries claims include:

  • Head, neck, and spinal injuries;
  • Collarbone injuries, such as those due to defective seat belts and safety harness systems; and
  • Collision related injuries resulting from brake failure, such as whiplash.

In order to file a product liability claim for automotive product defects, it is not necessary for the vehicle to be inoperative. A specific example of this would be the previously mentioned “sticky” gas pedal; the vehicle is not technically inoperative, but it would be dangerous to operate the vehicle without first remedying the defect. To reiterate, in order to bring a legal claim, the injured party only must demonstrate that a portion of the vehicle was sufficiently defective to cause an injury.

Who Is at Fault: Manufacturer or Dealership?

When determining whether to file a lawsuit against car manufacturers, it is imperative to first consider who else may actually be at fault for the defective vehicle. As previously discussed, product defects are most commonly categorized into one of three ways:

  • Design Defect: The automotive product’s defect was present before the product was even manufactured or assembled;
  • Manufacturing Defect: The automotive product has become dangerous, unsafe, or otherwise unfit for use, because of how the product was constructed and/or assembled; and
  • Marketing Defect: The product’s manufacturer failed to include adequate warnings and information in terms of the dangers associated with the use of the product.

In order to sue for an injury resulting from an automotive product defect, the plaintiff must prove that the vehicle had an unreasonably dangerous defect which was the cause of their injury. Additionally, they must prove that they were using the vehicle properly; meaning, using the vehicle as it was intended to be used. Finally, the plaintiff will need to demonstrate that the vehicle was not substantially altered from the condition in which it was originally manufactured and sold.

Generally speaking, the injured party must provide proof that the manufacturer was negligent or careless in some way. Because automotive product defect cases are commonly based on the legal theory of product liability, it may be possible for the plaintiff to recover damages even if the vehicle’s manufacturer did not actually intend for the injuries to manifest. This would only occur when the plaintiff meets the above elements, and remains true even if the manufacturer was not necessarily reckless in their actions (or lack thereof).

Recovering Damages from the Manufacturer for My Accident

If a lawsuit is filed and the court determines that the manufacturer did in fact issue a defective product, the plaintiff may be granted a damages award associated with their injuries. Such a damages award is generally intended to reimburse the plaintiff for costs associated with:

  • Hospital bills not covered by the plaintiff’s health insurance;
  • Missed work because of the injury, such as time away from work to seek medical treatment or recover; and
  • Any necessary therapy or rehab bills, such as physical therapy costs.

Some especially serious automotive defective product cases may lead to a class action lawsuit, or a recall of the defective motor vehicle or part. For example, in the cases of faulty airbags, there have been class action lawsuits against both the car and airbag manufacturers. Additionally, the court may order punitive damages against the defendant in order to discourage them from repeating their actions.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have been injured because of a defective automotive product, you should consult with an experienced and local auto lawyer as soon as possible. Because state laws can vary widely in terms of product liability and personal injury, it is important that you work with an experienced and local personal injury attorney so that you receive the most relevant legal advice. 

An experienced and local personal injury attorney can review the facts of your case, determine who should be on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Finally, an attorney will also be able to help you gather all necessary evidence, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.


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