Automotive Defect Cases
Not all motor vehicle accidents are the result of driver error. Often, the fault lies with the companies who design, manufacture, and service the vehicle. When an accident is the result of an automotive defect or malfunction, it often causes serious injuries and significant damages. Product liability lawsuits allow consumers to hold the manufacturers, sellers, and designers of faulty vehicles accountable for the damages caused by automotive defects.
Failure to Equip and Automotive Collisions
Vehicle manufacturers often do not utilize available safety technology which could prevent an accident in the first place or prevent serious injury once an accident occurs. For example, years ago, car companies were still not including airbags in their vehicles, even though the technology was readily available. Consumers brought failure to equip cases against the manufacturers. Today, manufacturers are still failing to equip their vehicles with life saving technology.
Failure to Equip a Vehicle with Crash Avoidance Technology (CAT)
Crash avoidance technology helps the driver to avoid a crash in the first place. Today, every car manufacturer in the world has the opportunity to make their vehicles safer for consumers using crash avoidance technology. Below are a few examples of crash avoidance technologies that are available to manufacturers today:
- Forward Collision Warning Systems systems provide visual, audible, and/or tactile alerts to warn a driver of an impending collision with a car or object directly in its forward path.
- Automatic Emergency Braking Systems identify when a collision is about to occur, and respond by autonomously activating the brakes to slow a vehicle prior to impact or bring it to a complete stop prior to a collision
- Intelligent Cruise Control measures the distance from the vehicle ahead automatically slows to maintain a pre-set following distance
- Lane Departure Warning alerts drivers if their vehicle begins to drift out of their lane, which can be particularly useful for aiding with blind spot detection in real time
- Pedestrian Detection Systems use sensors to identify human movement on the road, including cyclists, to alert drivers to a vulnerable, moving object and avoid a collision
- Cross Traffic Alert Systems sense traffic that may cross the path of a vehicle as it reverses or moves forward
Failure to Equip a Vehicle with Crash Protection Features
Crash protection features protect drivers and passengers from serious injury in the event of a crash.
- Active Head Restraints move up and forward in a rear crash to cradle the head and absorb energy in an effort to mitigate whiplash injury
- Roof Crush – adequate roof strength to prevent roof crush in rollover accidents
- Side Impact Design -- airbags which provide protection in side impact and rollover accidents
- Seat Design – adequate seat strength to prevent seats from failing in rear impact crashes
Design Defects, Manufacturer Defects, and Automotive Collisions
Automotive manufacturers and designers are responsible for putting safe cars on the road. Many parts and systems work together in a modern automobile or motor vehicle. These include fuel systems, electronic and computerized control systems, cooling and heating systems, airbag systems, seat belts, and more. Operational components surround a cabin that protects the safety and comfort of the driver and passengers. Sometimes, mistakes in the design of the vehicle have unanticipated real-world outcomes. Other times, a component may be manufactured using faulty materials or in a way that does not meet safety specifications.
Vehicle safety systems unquestionably help save lives and reduce the severity of injuries in automotive collisions. These safety systems, however, can malfunction, fail to perform as expected, and pose safety risks of their own. For example:
- Airbag Failure: New cars sold in the U.S. must have dual front airbags (for the driver and front-seat passenger) and side airbags. Defects in the design or manufacture of components can lead to airbag non-deployment, exposing the driver and front passenger to additional danger in a collision.
- Airbag-Caused Injuries: Because of the speed and force with which airbags deploy, they can directly cause injuries. These include cuts, abrasions, eye injuries, hearing loss, and more. They also pose a smothering risk to children and small adults.
- Seatbelt Defects: New vehicles must be equipped with three-point (shoulder and lap belt) seatbelt systems for each seating position; older vehicles must comply with the version of the law in effect when they were manufactured. Drivers and passengers rely on seatbelts to help keep them safe and reduce their chances of serious injury in a collision. A seatbelt can expose a rider to additional danger if it does not function as intended due to a design flaw or defect.
- Seatback Failures: Sometimes, a rear impact crash can cause the front seats to fall backward. This can crush or catastrophically injure a back seat passenger. Accidents involving seatback failures are especially dangerous for children riding in car seats. A manufacturer may be held liable if the design or manufacture of their seatbacks fails to meet the national safety standard or create an unreasonably dangerous condition.
- Vehicle Rollovers: Many sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are more prone to tipping or rolling over than other vehicles due to their design, which gives them a higher center of gravity.
- Defective Accelerator Petals: A poorly designed accelerator pedal assembly that tends to get stuck on the driver’s floor mat could cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle.
- Vehicles sold with defective tires could cause high-speed blowouts and loss of control, resulting in potentially fatal collisions.
- Crumple Zone Failure: Vehicles sold with defective crumple zones that vail to absorb kinetic energy in crash events, and thus fail to insulate the driver
If one of the above-mentioned features fails to protect you or a loved one in a crash, you may have a crashworthiness lawsuit. Crashworthiness is how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a collision. It includes the safety of a vehicle’s design, its safety systems and features, its manufacturing and production quality, and other factors contributing to its overall safety.
A crashworthiness personal injury lawsuit alleges that one of the safety systems that was intended to reduce or minimize injuries within a vehicle during a collision failed or did not perform as advertised. Even if another driver’s negligence caused a collision, an injured person might have a claim against the manufacturer of their own vehicle if it did not reasonably protect them.
For example, a driver may be injured in a frontal crash when their airbag fails to deploy, and they strike their head on the windshield, sustaining a severe concussion. This injury would likely have been avoided if the airbag had deployed correctly per the manufacturer’s specifications and federal requirements. In addition to a claim against the other driver, they may have a crashworthiness personal injury claim against the car manufacturer.
Vehicle designers, manufacturers, and retailers must take reasonable measures to test and ensure the safety of the vehicles and parts they sell. Failure to do so is negligence. However, the law also holds them strictly liable if they sell or provide an “unreasonably dangerous” product to consumers. They are responsible for compensating victims who sustain injuries caused by their products.
What Is an “Unreasonably Dangerous” Product or Design?
Product designers, manufacturers, and sellers are held responsible under the law if they make or sell an “unreasonably dangerous” product that causes damages. An unreasonably dangerous product is characterized by risks an ordinary user would not reasonably expect when using the product as intended.
For example, although ordinary dangers are inherent in operating a vehicle, a car’s driver would not expect it to shift into reverse spontaneously while traveling at highway speed. A car that did so would be “unreasonably” dangerous, that is, beyond the usual hazards of a motor vehicle.
Certain products are fundamentally more dangerous than others. Often, these products bear warning labels that inform consumers of the risks and how to use the product properly to minimize the danger. Whether a product is “unreasonably” dangerous is not measured relative to how dangerous other things are. Instead, it is evaluated by asking whether a reasonable person using the product in its intended manner would anticipate the product’s risks.
For example, even though gasoline is a highly flammable material, a reasonable person putting gas in their vehicle can observe the posted warnings, understand the fire risk, and take reasonable steps to prevent injury. However, if the gasoline emitted unusual, toxic fumes that posed a grave danger of poisoning users, it would be appropriate to call it “unreasonably dangerous.”
Recalls and Other Manufacturer Warnings
Lawsuits and news reports often help make manufacturers aware of defects or unreasonably dangerous components of their products. Other times, they uncover flaws in a design or faults in the manufacturing process during additional testing or internal development. Regardless of how a manufacturer discovers an issue, if it is likely to cause harm to the public, they are required to publish notice of a product recall. This is a notice to the public that a product is “unreasonably dangerous” and may cause unexpected injury to a person using it as intended.
If a manufacturer fails to issue a product recall, or fails to issue an adequate product recall, they may be liable to a person who is injured by their product.
Product recalls are intended to prevent injuries to the public, but they do not absolve a company of liability for a dangerous product. If you have been injured by a recalled automotive product, you may still have a product liability claim.
Did an Automotive Defect Cause Your Injuries?
To hold a manufacturer or seller liable for injuries, a person must have been using the allegedly defective or unreasonably dangerous product in its intended manner.
For example, a driver who experiences a fuel system explosion while operating a vehicle with the recommended type of gasoline would likely have a viable legal claim for their damages. However, a driver who filled their car with rocket fuel would be unlikely to recover damages for injuries resulting from an explosion.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a defective or unreasonably dangerous product, you need an experienced attorney. Car manufacturers have skilled, well-financed legal teams protecting their interests. You need a trial lawyer who will relentlessly fight for you. Contact The Cooper Firm today for a free consultation.