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What are Motor Vehicle Defects?
Motor vehicle defect cases include not only passenger automobiles, but also motorcycles, trucks, and vans. Claims have been based on defects in the body and frame, brakes and braking system, cooling and temperature control system, electrical system, engine assembly, exhaust system, fuel system, lubrication system, passenger compartment, steering and suspension systems, tires and wheels, transmission and drivetrain, and other parts and accessories.
Motor vehicle manufacturers have a duty to use reasonable care when designing their products and to protect users from unreasonable risks of harm while the products are being used for their intended purposes or for any other purposes that could reasonably be expected. In a products liability action in which the plaintiff claims that the manufacturer was negligent, the plaintiff usually must prove a defect in the vehicle and that the defective condition was the result of negligence in the manufacturing process or that the defendant knew or should have known about the defective condition. A manufacturer can be liable in some cases even in the absence of proof of a specific, identifiable defect.
The motor vehicle manufacturer owes this duty of reasonable care not only to direct users of the vehicle, but also to bystanders, such as pedestrians, who are injured as a result of a defect. In addition, the manufacturer has a duty to design the vehicle to be crashworthy--that is, to be capable of withstanding collisions without reasonably avoidable injury to the occupants of the vehicle. If the vehicle is not crashworthy, the manufacturer may be liable even if the accident itself was caused by a driver's negligence and not by a defect in the vehicle. There is no duty to protect against all possible ways in which one may be injured, such as by preventing the theft of a car by a third party who ultimately injures someone.
The manufacturer also has a duty to warn of hazardous effects of its product. The nature and audience of the required warnings depend on, among other factors:
- the harm that may result if no notice is given
- the reliability of the person (if other than the owner) to whom notice is given
- the burden involved in locating persons to whom notice should be given
- the degree of attention it can be expected that the notice will be given by the recipient
- the kind of product involved and the number manufactured or sold
- the steps taken to correct the problem
A motor vehicle manufacturer may be ordered to pay punitive damages, or damages that are not intended to compensate the victim but rather to punish the defendant, if the defendant consciously elected to disregard what it knew to be a genuine potential for danger. Such awards have ranged well into the millions of dollars.
Manufacturers have several defenses available to them in motor vehicle defect cases. These may include nonuse of seat belts or child restraints; contributory negligence, such as speeding; assumption of the risk, such as when a driver knows about a defect but continues using the vehicle anyway; and compliance with government or industry standards.
An experienced products liability attorney can assist a potential plaintiff in determining whether he or she has a valid products liability claim based on a motor vehicle defect and can help the plaintiff secure the damages to which he or she is entitled.
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