Anyone who has purchased a car knows how annoying a defective motor vehicle can be. Vehicle manufacturers and dealerships sell cars with warranties or guarantees that the cars are safe and free of defects. Unfortunately, not every car is safe or defect-free.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a federal government department. It issues regulations regarding vehicle safety that most manufacturers and dealerships must follow. It also keeps a searchable database of safety issues and recalls. Other state and federal laws, collectively known as motor vehicle defect laws, help protect consumers from defective products and designs.
What Are Motor Vehicle Defects?
Motor vehicle defects fall under a broad category of law known as product liability. Products manufactured or sold in the United States must be safe and suitable for their intended purpose. Buying a car should be safe, and all parts should work as you expect. If not, you have a defective vehicle.
Product defects fall into three general categories:
- Design Defects: These defects are present on the drafting table. Something in the item's design makes it inherently dangerous or unusable.
- Manufacturing Defects: Some fault occurs during the manufacturing process or assembly.
- Marketing Defects: Inadequate labeling, insufficient warnings, or improper instructions on use fall into this category.
The standard motor vehicle design itself is safe for consumers. Design defects occur when automakers attempt to redesign existing parts for efficiency, such as fuel systems and gas tanks. Other design flaws happen during a cosmetic redesign. For example, making a car look sleeker can also reduce body strength, leading to roof crush damage during rollover accidents.
Manufacturing defects, which happen when products are made on the assembly line, can affect individual parts. The average car contains more than 30,000 separate parts, from the engine block to individual door latches. A manufacturing flaw in any of these parts can lead to vehicle failure.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have lemon laws. Lemon laws vary in each state, but in general, a "lemon" is a defective automobile with a substantial defect covered by the vehicle's warranty, which occurs within a certain time after purchase, and which persists after a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect.
Each state's laws define "substantial defect" and "reasonably number" differently. Some states cover only new cars, and some cover new and used vehicles. If you have purchased a defective car or one with a defective part that resists repair efforts, contact an attorney before invoking the lemon law in your state.
All lemon laws allow owners to receive free repairs or replacements for their vehicles. The procedure is more complex than claiming you have an auto defect, so you want a new car. In some states, the dealership or manufacturer must have issued a recall notice to invoke the lemon law. In other cases, the owner must keep track of the number of repairs to show an "excessive amount of repairs."
Vehicle Defect Laws
The NHTSA sets most safety standards for motor vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, trucks, and other road vehicles. Auto manufacturers must meet strict standards for crashworthiness and passenger safety. The NHTSA also regulates auto parts manufacturers for airbags, seatbelts, and other items.
States may have additional regulations for auto parts, such as California's emissions requirements on catalytic converters. State law controls lemon law procedures. If you need to make a product liability claim, you will file it with your local court, not in a federal court.
Vehicle Defects and Car Accidents
Some motor vehicle defects lead to auto accidents. The Firestone tire recall in the 1980s was due to a defect that caused blowouts at highway speeds. This led to numerous accidents and wrongful death claims. When motor vehicle defects lead to serious injuries, it's time to call a personal injury lawyer. Personal injury attorneys can help you deal with your insurance company and explain what to do if the case involves product liability.
Some motor vehicle defect cases become class-action lawsuits. They involve so many people with the same type of defect that the courts consolidate the cases so the manufacturers and insurance companies can manage the complaints and verdicts simultaneously. If a class-action lawsuit affects your vehicle or a part in your vehicle, you will receive notice by mail asking if you want to join the suit.
You should file a personal injury case after a motor vehicle accident where the insurer claims the cause was a product defect. Personal injury law does not directly address product liability or motor vehicle law, but you may need both for a personal injury claim. Some insurance policies may not cover product defects or may need to join the automotive company in the case. An attorney can advise you about these types of cases.
Product Liability and Personal Injury Claims
Product liability cases are slightly different from standard personal injury claims. In a product liability claim, negligence is presumed. You do not have to prove the manufacturer's duty to provide a safe product and their breach of duty. All you need to show is that their defective product caused your injuries.
For instance, if a car had a flawed seatbelt assembly and was not attached properly to the seatback, it might come loose at a lower impact than safety specifications require. The manufacturer and auto dealer should send out recall notices if they know of this defect. If this system defect caused your injuries, you would have a case against the seatbelt manufacturer and the auto dealership.
Hiring a Lawyer for Your Motor Vehicle Defect Claim
Whether you have a car with a problem your mechanic can't seem to fix, or you or a loved one were injured in a car accident because of a mechanical failure, you need a motor vehicle defect lawyer. They have the know-how to review your case and let you know your legal rights and options.