What Is Motor Vehicle Product Liability?​

car on road

Liability for defects in motor vehicles stems from the general concept of product liability, a branch of law which determines when manufacturers are at fault for placing manufactured products available to consumers.

If the products do not meet ordinary consumer expectations, usually in the form of injury to the consumers, manufacturers may be held liable. Such defects may be:

  • Design defects (flaws inherent before the product is even manufactured)
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Warning defects (insufficient consumer warning labels)

Motor vehicles can be defective in a variety of ways. Some of the most common defects are with:

  • Engines
  • Electrical systems
  • Brakes
  • Tires and wheels
  • Fuel systems
  • Body and frame

What are Some Common Motor Vehicle Product Liability Claims?

While almost every part of a motor vehicle can result in a product liability claim, certain parts are more likely to result in a claim. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2015 around 500 people died from to a car accident due to tire malfunction.

From 2005 to 2007, the NHTSA found that the majority of car accidents (94%) are due to driver's negligence, but 2% was due to a vehicle malfunction. Of that 2 %, these are some of the most common product failures that attribute to the overall statistic:

  • Tires, either loss of traction or air pressure;
  • Failures of brakes or brake systems;
  • Seatbelts failure and airbag defects; and/or
  • Roof crush: this occurs when vehicles roll over and have become more common with the increase of SUV manufacture since SUVs are more prone to roll over, which is itself a defect.

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

If you wish to take action against a manufacturer following injury by one of their motor vehicles, several items must be proven:

  1. The vehicle had a defect that made it unreasonably dangerous
  2. The injury occurred while the vehicle was being used in a reasonable way
  3. The vehicle, specifically, caused the injury
  4. The vehicle was in substantially the same condition as when it was sold

The manufacturer, if sued, may try to show either that these conditions are not met, or show contributory negligence on the part of the consumer.

Evidence used in the claim may include physical items from the car, which is often gleaned from the accident scene; video or photographs; witness testimony; police reports and other written documents; and similar claims from other plaintiffs.

Many motor vehicle product liability lawsuits end up being filed as class action lawsuits if many people were injured by the same type of car.

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

If you have been injured while driving a vehicle, and believe that the vehicle was defective, you may want to contact a personal injury attorney to evaluate your case. When successful, consumers may be entitled to punitive damages.

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