Motor vehicle defects refer to any faults in a motor vehicle that are the result of the actions of the manufacturer.  The legal definition of motor vehicle in most states is “any self-propelled vehicle that is designed for operation on land, but does not use rails”. 

Thus, for the purposes of defect claims, the term “motor vehicle” can include trucks, vans, buses and motorcycles.  In other words, the term is not limited to passenger cars (although it does not include boats or other watercrafts).

For purposes of a lawsuit or a car defects recall, a motor vehicle defect usually refers only to those flaws that create safety hazards or may result in the injury of the operator or passengers.  Thus, aesthetic flaws such as a botched paint job or a misplaced decal are usually not the subject of a vehicle defects claim. 

Some commonly claimed motor vehicle defects include: 

  • Brake and gas pedal defects (pedals getting stuck or jammed)
  • Safety equipment defects (safety belt or airbag failure)
  • Fuel, exhaust, and cooling system flaws
  • Misaligned steering mechanisms
  • Structural problems in the frame, body, transmission, or engine assembly
  • Electrical and computer problems such as defective keyless fobs

How can I Recover Losses for a Motor Vehicle Defect?

Unlike personal injury claims based on a car accident, you do not need to show that a manufacturer was negligent or careless.  Instead, motor vehicle defect cases are usually based on the legal doctrine of products liability

To prove that the manufacturer was liable for your injuries or losses, you would need to show that:

  • The motor vehicle had an “unreasonably dangerous defect” (see below) that was the cause of your injury. 
  • The vehicle was being properly used, in the manner that it was intended to be used.  For example, you probably cannot recover if you were continually driving in the wrong gear
  • The vehicle had not been substantially altered from the condition which it was originally sold in.  “Substantially altered” refers to the particular way that the vehicle is supposed to perform

Thus, even if a manufacturer did not intend for your injuries to occur, or if they were not reckless in their actions, you can still recover if the above elements are satisfied.  An “unreasonably dangerous defect” may be due to:

  • The vehicle’s design
  • A defect in the manufacturing process (the design is acceptable but the vehicle was manufactured wrongly), or
  • A failure to provide adequate warning of any dangerous aspects of the vehicle (such as a failure to place a warning label where required)

Does a Manufacturer have any Defenses against a Defects Claim?

The manufacturer and/or seller may have a defense against your claim if it can be proven that you knew about the defective condition but continued to operate the vehicle.  Some states also prohibit or limit your recovery if you had contributed in any way to your injury (comparative or contributory negligence).

Also, as mentioned above, if you have altered or modified your motor vehicle in any way since the time of purchase, this may prevent your ability to recover damages.

What are the Remedies available to me for Motor Vehicle Defects?

If the manufacturer was found to have issued a defective product, you may be able to recover losses for any injuries that may have been caused by the defect.  In some instances the manufacturer may be required to pay for the repair of the defective condition.  If several people have been affected by the defect, you may be able to participate in a class action lawsuit, or the manufacturer may issue a recall.  

Finally, a court may sometimes prescribe punitive damages as a means of persuading the manufacturer to correct the defect, particularly if there is a flaw in the vehicle’s design.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Injuries from a Motor Vehicle Defect?

If you have been injured as a result of a motor vehicle defect, you may wish to contact a personal injury lawyer.  An attorney can discuss your options with you.  Products liability laws can differ from state to state and may also depend on the type of motor vehicle in question (for example, commercial vehicles may have different standards).  Your attorney will be able to explain how the various laws apply to your situation.