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Drivers or passengers that suffer injuries in their vehicle have recourse against both the manufacturer of the vehicle or the auto parts, in the event that a part failure is the cause of the incident. The question of who may be sued for a defect in the automobile or the part leads to a broad answer. Anybody who has been involved in the sale or manufacture may be held liable. This certainly means the auto manufacturer, but it can also include the dealer and the auto parts store. Therefore, it is not surprising that product liability suits for automobile defects are one of the more active areas of product liability litigation. Juries are relatively sympathetic to plaintiffs who suffer injuries due to automobile defects. This has led to some large jury verdicts against manufacturers.

Auto part lawsuit

An automobile product liability lawsuit can be brought for any number of reasons. The first reason that plaintiffs will always try to demonstrate is that the manufacturer should be held strictly liable because there was a defect in the manufacture or the design. This defect can be virtually any part or feature of the automobile, including its design or any of its component parts. In addition, defendants can be found liable for a failure to warn customers of any propensity for danger in the automobile. For example, if the automaker knows that the vehicle is prone to rollover, the manufacturer has an obligation to warn the customer. Finally, crashworthiness is another theory under which manufacturers may be sued. Even if a defect in the car did not cause the accident, an automaker can be found liable because the defect exacerbated the plaintiff’s injuries.

 Liability for failing to design, test and inspect a vehicle

Other theories of product liability are negligence and warranty. Typically, plaintiffs will first attempt to advance strict liability grounds because there the existence of the defect itself is largely the end of the inquiry. Warranty claims result from the fact that the manufacturer has usually made some sort of representation in the process of selling the automobile to the customer. This can be a statement made in the course of advertising or it can take on other forms. When the automobile does not live up to the affirmations that the manufacturer has made in a manner that causes injury, the manufacturer can be said to have breached the warranty. Negligence may be the most difficult of the three theories for a plaintiff to prove. In order to prevail, a plaintiff must show that the automaker did not exercise reasonable care. Demonstrating what was unreasonable is often difficult and costly. Nonetheless, manufacturers may be held liable for adequately failing to design, test and inspect a vehicle under this theory.

Defective and dangerous auto

While manufacturers sometimes settle cases, they often vigorously contest product liability lawsuits. Although the automaker may try to escape liability by arguing that the manner in which the customer was operating the vehicle caused their injuries, contributory negligence is not recognized by many states anymore. However, if the plaintiff’s actions were mostly responsible for the injury, the plaintiff may not be able to recover. Automakers can also try to argue that a customer knew about the defect as well, but assumed the risk by continuing to operate the vehicle. Another potential defense to a product liability suit is that the customer either misused it or altered it enough such that the manufacturer should not be held responsible for manufacturing defects.

product liability lawyer

Product liability cases are unique insofar as parties at various points in the stream of commerce will be contesting issues to either pass on or escape liability. Manufacturers, suppliers and dealers often end up pointing fingers at each other during product liability litigation. This is because all of the parties may be liable, and the parties are contesting the share of the liability that each of them has. Each of the parties in the stream of commerce will likely try to claim that any damage is the fault of another of the parties.

One of the largest earlier automotive product liability cases was the case against Ford that arose from defects in the Ford Pinto. Specifically, a Ford Pinto was hit from behind on a highway and burst into flames. It was discovered that the Pinto had a defect in the fuel system that caused it to catch fire when impacted. Ford knew about this defect and could have fixed it for a slight cost per automobile. Instead, Ford chose not to do so. The design was found to be defective because the fuel tank was placed behind the rear axle. A jury had initially awarded the plaintiffs $125 million in punitive damages before it was reduced on appeal.

Ford explorer lawsuit

Another example of a landmark products liability lawsuit was the case of the baseball player Brian Cole, who was killed when the Ford Explorer he was riding in rolled over when it swerved to avoid an accident. The jury awarded Cole’s family $131 million in damages and that was before the jury even assessed punitive damages. The case ultimately settled before punitive damages were assessed. Ford’s defenses that Cole was speeding and driving recklessly were not enough to persuade a jury that it should not be held liable for damages in this case. Cole was widely thought to be a future baseball star, and the damages likely included lost income over what could have been a successful major league career.

Many of the largest product liability lawsuits in the United States are against automakers. When there is not an individualized injury, they take the form of class action lawsuits, where the commonality of the plaintiffs’ injuries allow them to be certified as a class and join in one lawsuit. Those who believe that their car has a defect that was undisclosed during the sale process, or were injured due to what they believe was a defect, should contact a lawyer. Alternatively, they should monitor the news to see if there already is an ongoing class action lawsuit that they can join.


Findlaw –

Grimshaw v. Ford Motor –

Investopedia – –

New York Daily News –