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Car Defect Injury Claims

In order to establish a vehicle manufacturer's or seller's liability for a car defect, you do not need to show that they were careless. In this way, liability in motor vehicle defect cases is determined by what is known as the doctrine of strict liability. Such a claim falls within the scope of what is known as a tort, and it alleges negligence.

How Can I Make a Strict Liability Claim?

Regardless of what steps a manufacturer or dealer says it takes in designing, assembling, or handling a motor vehicle and without needing to show carelessness, you can make a strict liability claim based on a motor vehicle defect, if all three of the following conditions are met:

  • The vehicle or one of its components had an "unreasonably dangerous" defect that injured you. The defect can come into existence either in the design of the vehicle, during manufacturing, during handling or shipment, or through a failure to warn consumers of a dangerous aspect of the vehicle.
  • The defect caused an injury while the vehicle was being used in a way that it was intended to be used. For example, you may not be able to recover if a sports sedan were used to cross a stream.
  • The vehicle had not been substantially changed from the condition in which it was originally sold. "Substantially" means in a way that affects how the vehicle performs.

Defenses to Car Defect Claims

The vehicle manufacturer and/or the seller may have a defense to your strict liability claims, particularly if you have owned the vehicle for some time. This is usually the case, if it can be shown that you knew about the defect but continued to use the vehicle anyway. This is usually established in the following ways:

  • Through the vehicle's condition, which the manufacturer's or seller's insurance company will be able to examine if you bring a claim, or
  • From your own description of how you've used the car.

In some states, however, a manufacturer or seller may also be able to defend against your motor vehicle defect claim under the theory that your contributory or comparative negligence was the cause of your injuries. This is also true if your contributory or comparative negligence was a factor in causing your injuries. An example of such a factor could be if you chose not to make repairs to your car, which could have prevented your injury. In such a case, the repairs must have been related to damage that you caused in the car. It must not be a pre-existing problem in the car for which the manufacturer is responsible. Such a pre-existing problem is another way of referring to a defect.

Punitive Damages

A recent trend in vehicle product liability cases is to increase awards of punitive damages for those who successfully bring a claim against a manufacturer or seller. These punitive damage awards are considered "above and beyond" damages to compensate a plaintiff for their injuries. They can range into the tens of millions of dollars in certain instances. Punitive damages are intended to punish vehicle manufacturers and encourage them to fix inherent defects in vehicle designs that have resulted in injury.

Note, however, that a plaintiff won't typically be entitled to punitive damages unless it is determined that the defendant engaged in intentional or malicious harm or conduct.

From time to time, maliciousness has been established by pointing to a vehicle manufacturer's decision not to recall a vehicle when the manufacturer had direct knowledge of the defect, by failing to warn the plaintiff of the defect, or by failing to sufficiently test the vehicle in a way that would have revealed the defect.

Traditionally, vehicle manufacturers have engaged in what is known as a "cost-benefit" analysis when deciding whether to change a potentially defective vehicle design. In this process, the manufacturer will calculate the cost of implementing a design change. They weigh that cost against the potential costs of litigation and settlement after the defect causes injuries. Punitive damages are often awarded in order to add to the potential costs a manufacturer will face if it decides not to fix a design defect. This serves as encouragement to the manufacturer to eliminate the defects.

Still Confused? Contact an Attorney

A qualified personal injury attorney can explain in greater detail what variety of claim is most appropriate under your circumstances. It can be very hard to be the victim of a car defect-related injury.

From how expensive the resulting medical costs can be to the possibility of not being able to work as a result of such an injury, it can be overwhelming to handle such an accident on your own. If you're still confused about car defect injury claims, consider contacting a qualified personal injury attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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