The term “motor vehicle defects” refers to any faults in a motor vehicle, resulting from the actions of the vehicle’s manufacturer. In terms of motor vehicle defect claims, the term “motor vehicle” extends to include trucks, vans, buses, and motorcycles.
What this means is that the term is not limited to passenger cars; however, the term does not include boats, or any other types of watercraft. In most states, the legal definition of motor vehicle is “any self-propelled vehicle that is designed for operation on land, but does not use rails.”
In terms of a lawsuit, or a car defects recall, a motor vehicle defect generally only refers to flaws which create safety hazards. This includes flaws that may result in the injury of the operator or passengers. As such, aesthetic flaws such as a botched paint job or a misplaced decal are not generally the subject of a successful vehicle defects claim.
Some of the most common examples of claimed motor vehicle defects include, but may not be limited to:
- Brake and gas pedal defects, such as the pedals getting stuck or jammed;
- Safety equipment defects, such as safety belt or airbag failure;
- Fuel, exhaust, and cooling system defects;
- Misaligned steering mechanisms;
- Structural problems associated with the frame, body, transmission, or engine assembly; and/or
- Electrical and computer problems, such as defective keyless fobs.
Federal motor vehicle safety standards are what determine the minimum performance requirements for the parts that will most likely affect the operation of a vehicle.
This includes but may not be limited to:
- Steering wheel;
- Lighting; and/or
- Anything else associated with the protection of the drivers and passengers.
Can I Sue For a Motor Vehicle Defect?
Unlike personal injury claims associated with a car accident, the plaintiff will not need to show that a manufacturer was negligent or careless. Rather, motor vehicle defect cases are generally based on the legal doctrine of products liability.
A products liability claim involves a manufacturer or seller of a product being held accountable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. Any party responsible for any part of the manufacture of the product could be held liable, just as any seller may be held liable.
During the production of a vehicle, dozens of parties may be involved. If the vehicle ends up defective in some way, the following parties may all be held liable for any of the injuries caused by the defect:
- The assembling manufacturer;
- The wholesaler;
- The dealer; and
- The manufacturer of the piece that was found to be defective.
There are three ways in which to categorize defects that may result in liability to one or all of the previously mentioned parties:
- Design Defects: Design defects are defects in the design of the product. No matter how well the product is manufactured, or how thoroughly a consumer is warned about the product, a defective design renders it as inherently flawed. Because of this, it could lead to potential liability;
- Manufacturing Defects: A manufacturing defect occurs when the manufacturer puts the product together in such a way that makes the product unsafe; and
- Defective Warnings: Some products may lead to a products liability suit if there is an inadequate warning regarding the product and how it is to be used and maintained.
How Can I Recover Losses For a Motor Vehicle Defect? What Remedies May Be Available?
To prove that the vehicle’s manufacturer was liable for your injuries or losses, you must prove the following:
- The motor vehicle had an “unreasonably dangerous defect” which caused your injury or loss;
- The vehicle was being properly used according to how it was intended to be used, as you probably cannot recover if you were continually driving in the wrong gear for example; and
- You did not substantially alter the vehicle from the condition in which it was originally sold. “Substantially altered” refers to the specific way that the vehicle is supposed to perform, and does not refer to maintenance and repairs.
What this means is that even if the vehicle’s manufacturer did not intend for your injuries to occur, or if they were not reckless in their actions, you may still be able to recover if you can meet the above elements. As previously discussed, an “unreasonably dangerous defect” may be associated with:
- The vehicle’s overall design;
- A defect in the manufacturing process, meaning that the design is acceptable but the vehicle was manufactured incorrectly; or
- A failure to provide sufficient warning of any dangerous aspects of the vehicle, such as failing to place a warning label where required.
If the vehicle’s manufacturer is found to have issued a defective product, you may recover losses for any injuries that were caused by the defect. In some cases, the manufacturer may be required to pay for the costs of repairing the defective condition. Additionally, if several people have been affected by the same defect, you may be able to participate in a class action lawsuit. Or, the manufacturer may issue a recall.
Recalls are generally issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) but can also be issued by the vehicle manufacturer once they have discovered a defect. If your vehicle or part of your vehicle is being recalled, the manufacturer is required by federal law to notify all registered owners and purchasers. This must be done by first class mail, and they must do so by using state vehicle registration information in order to locate the affected owners.
The vehicle’s manufacturer must provide all registered owners and purchasers with a free solution to the problem posed by the recall. This remedy can be an entirely new vehicle, free installation of new parts, or money as a sort of damages award.
Finally, the court may sometimes prescribe punitive damages. This is done as a means of persuading the manufacturer to correct the defect, especially if there is a flaw contained within the vehicle’s design.
Does The Vehicle’s Manufacturer Have Any Defenses Against a Motor Vehicle Defect Claim?
The vehicle’s manufacturer and/or seller may have a defense against your claim if they can prove that you were aware of the defective condition, but continued to operate the vehicle. Additionally, some states will prohibit or limit your recovery if you contributed in any way to your injury. This is referred to as comparative or contributory negligence.
To reiterate, if you have altered or modified the vehicle in any significant way since the time of purchase, this can prevent your ability to recover a damages award.
Do I Need An Attorney For a Motor Vehicle Defect Claim?
If you have been injured because of a motor vehicle defect, you should consult with an experienced and local auto lawyer. A local attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws regarding liability and damages awards, as well as if there are any different standards for commercial vehicles. An attorney can discuss your legal options with you to provide you with the most relevant legal advice.
Additionally, a local and experienced products and services lawyer will be able to inform you of any class action lawsuits that you can join. An attorney will also help you determine who to sue, what evidence you should gather to support your claim, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.