When defective car parts result in a car accident or an exacerbation of injuries arising out of an accident, there are many liability theories under which the accident victim may recover compensation. These theories require a plaintiff to show injuries and losses, a manufacturing defect, design defect, or failure to warn, and that the defect was the cause of the injury. Commonly used theories include strict liability, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty.
In most car accident cases, to hold someone liable for injuries, a plaintiff must prove that the person's or entity's negligence caused his or her injuries. With regard to products, however, different rules have developed, partly because it is extremely expensive to prove that a manufacturer making several lines of products was negligent with regard to just one of those products.
The theory of strict liability requires a plaintiff to show that the vehicle or a particular car part was defective and that this caused his or her injuries or property damages. In contrast to lawsuits brought on the basis of negligence, a plaintiff alleging strict liability will not have to show that a manufacturer's actions fell below a particular standard of care. Some car parts that can trigger or worsen a car crash when they are defective include brakes, seatbelts, steering wheels, accelerators, and ignitions.
A plaintiff can also rely on a breach of express or implied warranty. Often, car parts or a vehicle come with a written warranty or guarantee. A defect or multiple defects breach that warranty. What if there is no written warranty? In many states, there are certain minimum standards that particular products must meet, even when the manufacturer or seller does not offer a warranty.
In some design defects cases, there may be an existing class action lawsuit that you can join. For example, certain models of cars have defective tires and an experienced lawyer may already be prosecuting the manufacturer. Generally, when you join a class action lawsuit, you do not have to pay an upfront cost, but you reap the benefits.
It is usually a sound decision to join a class action in connection with defective car parts when your losses are very minor. In those cases, you and your attorney may not feel it is worthwhile to spend the money litigating when the potential recovery is small. However, where you have suffered serious personal injuries and the circumstances of your case are different from those of other class members, it is wiser to file your own suit.
Defenses to Products Liability Claims
Most often in products liability cases, the defendant contests the element of causation. This means the manufacturer or seller of the part will defend its position by arguing that it was a plaintiff's negligent driving that caused the injuries, rather than the defective part. The defendant may also point to another vehicle's negligent driving. For example, a lightweight car may roll over, even if it is not defective, if another car weaves into its lane and the lightweight car is forced to make a sharp turn to avoid hitting that car. In that case, the manufacturer or seller may have a convincing argument that the other car's driver is responsible.
Another common defense raised by a manufacturer or seller is that a plaintiff knew about the defect but continued to use the product. In order to prove this, the defendant may examine the condition of the car part or take your deposition, asking you questions about how you used the product to prove you knew about the defect but used the car anyway.