In general, motor vehicle product liability stems from a tort law concept known as, “product liability.” Specifically, this branch of law is used to help determine when a manufacturer may be held liable for allowing defective motor vehicles to be placed in the stream of commerce where they can then be sold to consumers.

A motor vehicle manufacturer can typically be held legally responsible when a particular vehicle model fails to comply with national safety standards and/or does not meet the expectations of ordinary consumers.

There are three primary categories of defects that a manufacturer can potentially be held liable for, which are:

  • Design defects;
  • Manufacturing defects; and
  • Warning defects.

In addition, a motor vehicle can be deemed defective for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common defects found in motor vehicles include having defective or faulty:

  • Engines;
  • Brakes;
  • Electrical or wiring systems;
  • Tires or wheels;
  • Fuel systems; and/or
  • Vehicle bodies or frames.

If you have been injured while driving a motor vehicle and believe you have a claim for motor vehicle product liability, you should contact a local personal injury attorney immediately for further legal advice. An attorney can assess the facts of your specific situation and will be able to use this evaluation to discuss your options for legal recourse (if any are available).

What are Some Common Motor Vehicle Product Liability Claims?

In general, almost any part of a motor vehicle can lead to a product liability lawsuit. However, there are certain parts of a motor vehicle that are more likely to result in a lawsuit based on a claim for product liability than others.

For instance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), one of the leading causes of accidents stems from defective motor vehicles or faulty motor vehicle parts. The NHTSA attempts to combat this issue by recalling motor vehicles that fail to comply with national safety standards. Sometimes, however, a defect may slip through the cracks. Tire malfunctions are just one example of defective car parts that often lead to a lawsuit.

Some other common motor vehicle defects that may result in filing a claim for product liability include:

  • Installing defective airbags that either fail to deploy upon impact, deploy spontaneously, or deploy so rapidly that they cause severe injuries to drivers and front-seat passengers;
  • Using tires on a vehicle that are too old or are not up to safety standards;
  • Designing seat belts that are defective (e.g., they do not lock-in) or are too short for the vehicle seat to provide sufficient protection for drivers or other passengers;
  • Having faulty brake systems that either fail after a short period of time or do not function properly at all;
  • Constructing a car frame out of cheap materials that can easily be crushed or bent if the vehicle rolls over or collides with another vehicle; and/or
  • Building or using defective motor vehicle parts to create a full-sized vehicle (e.g., faulty door and window locks, latches, the main frame of a vehicle, windshield wipers, and so forth).

Basically, any system that enables a motor vehicle to function properly can lead to a claim for product liability if a designer or manufacturer creates the vehicle using defective or faulty car parts.

What if I Have Been Injured Due to a Motor Vehicle Defect?

If an individual has suffered an injury due to a defect in a motor vehicle and they wish to take action against a manufacturer or some other business party within the vehicle’s chain of distribution (e.g., a wholesaler, a designer, etc.), then they must be able to prove several elements first.

Although these elements will likely be subject to change based on the laws of a particular jurisdiction, an injured party will generally have to prove factors that are similar to the following elements:

  • That the motor vehicle in question had a specific defect which made it unreasonably dangerous for consumer use;
  • The accident and resulting injuries occurred while the motor vehicle was being used in a reasonable or foreseeable manner;
  • The vehicle was both the direct and indirect cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and
  • The vehicle was in substantially the same condition as when it was initially sold at the time of the accident (e.g., no new parts or features were added that significantly changed the vehicle or affected how it operated).

In order to demonstrate some of the elements in the above list, the plaintiff will need to submit evidence to the court to support their claims.

For example, a plaintiff can provide videos, photos, eyewitness or expert testimony, police reports, receipts for medical bills, and various other written documents to prove their point. Also, depending on the case, a plaintiff may even be able to collect physical evidence from the scene of the accident, such as defective car parts.

In contrast, the manufacturer and/or other business parties within the vehicle’s chain of distribution that are being sued, may counter against this claim by arguing either that the plaintiff failed to establish the factors in the above list or by demonstrating that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing their own injuries.

Briefly, contributory negligence is a type of defense that a defendant can raise against a claim for negligence. However, this defense is only available as a total bar to recovery in a minority of jurisdictions, including Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. In other states, a similar concept known as “modified comparative negligence” can still serve to reduce the amount of damages that a defendant may be ordered to pay.

Finally, one last important note about injuries involving defective motor vehicles or faulty motor vehicle parts is that if enough persons were injured by the same type of vehicle or the vehicle was the cause of dozens of accidents, then the injured parties may be able to file a class action product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.

Due to the complexity of the technical procedural requirements involved, plaintiffs attempting to initiate a class action lawsuit should consult a local personal injury attorney for further legal advice. The elements to bring a class action product liability lawsuit will differ from those required to file an individual product liability lawsuit.

Do I Need to Talk to a Lawyer About My Product Liability Claim?

If you have been injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle and you believe that the accident and/or your resulting injuries were caused by a defect with the vehicle, then you may want to consider contacting a local class action attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced class action attorney will be able to evaluate your claim based on the surrounding circumstances of your matter as well as on the laws of your particular jurisdiction. Should your attorney determine that you have a viable claim, they will be able to assist you in filing a lawsuit and in recovering any potential damages. Your attorney can also inform you about your rights, protections, and legal remedies under the current laws in your area.

In addition, your attorney can provide legal representation in various settings, such as during court proceedings, at a settlement conference, or in some other method of dispute resolution, depending on your needs. Your attorney can also help you to initiate a class action lawsuit if your claim is of the kind that warrants one to be brought. Your attorney will be able to discuss the specifics involved with a class action product liability lawsuit as well.