Unlike an ordinary personal injury claim for negligence after a motor vehicle accident, in order to establish a vehicle manufacturer or seller's liability for a car defect, you do not need to show that they were careless. Instead, liability in motor vehicle defect cases is controlled by the doctrine of strict liability. Regardless of what steps a manufacturer or dealer says it takes in designing, assembling, or handling a motor vehicle, you can make a strict liability claim based on a motor vehicle defect -- without making any showing as to carelessness -- if all three of the following conditions exist:
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, if it can be shown that you knew about the defect but continued to use the vehicle anyway. This is usually established either 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 your use of the vehicle. In some states, 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, or a factor in, your injuries.
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 damages awards are above and beyond damages to compensate a plaintiff for his or her injuries, and 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.
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 (i.e. through vehicle recalls and repairs), and weigh that cost against the potential cost 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, thus shifting the cost-benefit analysis toward the elimination of defects.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.