According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 2.3 million people were injured in motor vehicle accidents during 2012. While the vast majority of accidents are the result of driver error, a substantial number each year occur as the result of defective vehicle equipment or parts. When these accidents occur, victims are often able to recover for their injuries and other losses by filing a lawsuit. Specific examples of the types of losses that are often recoverable include medical expenses, lost income, damage to property, physical and emotional pain and suffering, and others.
The area of law that allows people to hold designers, manufacturers, retailers, and other involved in the chain of commerce liable for injuries caused by defective products is known as product liability law. Product liability claims generally arise from three distinct types of product defects. These are as follows:
Claims based on defective design – Defective design claims arise when the way that a product is designed make it inherently dangerous to use as it is intended. These types of defects usually affect all instances of a given product, not just a particular batch or lot. In the context of motor vehicle accidents, design defects could include issues such as vehicles that are inherently unstable or brakes pads or airbags that deploy with excessive force.
Claims based on defective manufacture – Claims that are based on defective manufacture arise when a product is manufactured in such a way as to make it unreasonably dangerous to use as intended. Common examples of manufacturing defects include using the wrong or substandard materials, improper assembly or construction, shoddy workmanship, or other manufacturing errors.
Claims based on failure to warn – Also known as defective marketing, these claims arise when a nonobvious danger posed by a consumer product could be easily mitigated by providing the consumer with a warning.
Legally, these claims can proceed under various theories, including negligence, breach of express or implied warranty, or strict liability. The legal theory used in a particular car accident case will depend largely on the specific reason the accident occurred. In addition, various parties could be held liable in a product liability claim based on a defective vehicle or vehicle part, including the vehicle manufacturer, the designer or manufacturer of a specific part, or the retailer that ultimately sold the vehicle to the consumer.
Modern motor vehicles are extremely complicated machines with literally thousands of parts that have the potential to fail. Some of the more common kinds of defects that often lead to motor vehicle accidents are detailed below.
Brake Failure – Brakes are an essential part of any vehicle, allowing it to slow down and stop. When a vehicle’s brakes fail, a driver may be unable to control his or her vehicle, potentially resulting in a serious accident. Additionally, there are many aspects of modern brakes that have the potential to fail, including brake pads, brake lines, brake cylinders, and brake pedals.
Steering Mechanism Failure – A vehicle’s steering mechanism is what allows the driver to control the direction of the vehicle. When a steering mechanism fails, serious accidents can occur as a result. The specific parts of a steering mechanism that have the potential to fail include the power steering pump, hydraulic lines, tie rods, or the steering gear.
Tires – A vehicle’s tires are extremely important, as they are (or should be) a vehicle’s only point of contact with the ground. When tires fail, a driver could easily lose control of his or her vehicle. In addition, tire blowouts can occur suddenly and without warning, potentially resulting in a serious accident. Defective tires could include those that were manufactured with substandard rubber, improperly treaded tires, structural defects, or poor adhesion between tire belts and treads.
Windshield wipers – Most people do not think of windshield wipers as a particularly essential piece of equipment on their vehicle. Their opinion would likely change very quickly if their wipers failed during a heavy rain or snow storm. Without effective windshield wipers, a driver’s visibility would be significantly diminished in the event of adverse weather. As a result, defective windshield wipers have the potential to cause serious accidents.
Airbags – Properly designed and manufactured airbags should deploy when a vehicle is involved in a significantly forceful collision. In some cases, however, defective airbags have been known to deploy randomly while driving, often causing serious motor vehicle accidents. In addition, defective airbags can cause serious injury even when they deploy correctly, especially if there is an issue with the rate of their deployment or the explosive charge used by the airbag manufacturer.
Like all motor vehicle accidents, those caused by defective vehicles or vehicle equipment can often cause serious injury. In some cases, car accident victims can develop serious and debilitating long-term complications as a result of their injuries, possibly keeping them from working or even living independently. Among the most common kinds of injuries that people sustain in car accidents caused by defective vehicles or vehicle parts include:
Of course, there are many other kinds of injuries that can occur after a motor vehicle accident. Anyone who has been involved in a crash should seek medical attention immediately, even if they do not have any readily apparent injuries. Some injuries, such as whiplash, may take hours or even days to develop symptoms. By undergoing a medical evaluation, victims can be certain that their injuries are properly identified and treated.
Fortunately for people who are injured in accidents caused by defective vehicles or vehicle parts, in many cases they can recover for both their economic and noneconomic losses from the responsible manufacturer. In many cases, this recovery can be substantial and may compensate victims for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and more.
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