Accidents and Defective Car Parts
When we hear about car accidents, most people immediately blame the drivers, and for a good reason. At least 90% of the time, driver error is the main culprit behind a car accident. Deadly but far too common practices such as distracted driving, drunk driving, and simple traffic violations like speeding have resulted in 403,626 crashes in Florida in 2018 alone.
That being said, the significance of accidents caused by malfunctioning car parts cannot be disregarded. A study of 5,470 crashes recorded in 2005 to 2007 conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that defective vehicle components cause about two percent of car accidents.
The numbers may look insignificant, but cars roll off factories with malfunctioning parts all the time. For example, 3.5 million Chevrolet sedans and GMC SUVs and Pickup Trucks were recalled in 2019 due to a critical flaw in the vacuum pump. According to Cars.com, the vacuum pumps would weaken over time, decreasing brake assist and requiring more effort to engage the brakes.
In the same year, Ford recalled 1.2 million units of its popular 2011 – 2017 Explorer SUV after discovering that its rear suspension toe link was prone to fractures, decreasing steering control and increasing the risk of an accident.
Which Malfunctioning Car Parts Can Cause Car Accidents?
A typical motor vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE) has upwards of 30,000 moving parts, from the engine’s pistons to the smallest screws. While the car is sold under one brand, many of its components are supplied by several original equipment manufacturers (OEM) that may or may not be owned by the car brand.
While every part has a role to play in ensuring that the vehicle works as intended, the most critical components to your safety are the following:
Airbags are designed to protect by acting as a cushion during impact. A malfunctioning airbag may fail to deploy in a collision or inappropriately inflate when not needed. In both scenarios, a malfunctioning airbag will cause injuries or even death.
Some of the most high profile recalls were due to defective airbags. In a January 2020 report, the NHTSA announced that more than 41 million vehicles from 34 manufacturers were under recall for approximately 56 million defective Takata airbag inflators.
Invented in 1959, the modern three-point seat belt is a crucial part of ensuring vehicle safety. Malfunctioning seat belts in itself do not cause accidents, but inadequate restraints can cause the mechanism to fail, resulting in injuries or even death.
In 2020, Volvo discovered that 307,653 of its vehicles in the U.S.—and more than 2.1 million vehicles worldwide were installed with a steel cable prone to wear out prematurely.
Your rubber tires are responsible for maintaining traction. Apart from reduced gas mileage, improper tread wear, and other defects can cause a driver to lose steering control in less than ideal road conditions and result in a deadly crash.
Roofs and Roll Bars
Roll bars are designed to prevent rollovers in the event of a crash, enhancing passenger safety by preventing the roof from caving in.
In ICE vehicles, electrical systems are responsible for providing creature comforts such as stereo systems, navigation, air conditioning, and the like. In hybrid cars, they can also be responsible for moving the vehicle itself. That being said, malfunctioning electrical systems can cause fires, which can result in injuries and fatalities.
Steering, Acceleration, and Brake Systems
Steering systems control the direction of your vehicle’s movement, acceleration moves the car along, and your brake systems slow you down until you come to a complete stop. Altogether, these systems control the vehicle’s movements. Any flaws in any of these three systems are considered critical defects because they lead to a loss of control, leading to injury and even death.
How do I know if my vehicle is included in a recall?
The NHTSA and the car manufacturer is supposed to give you a notice if your vehicle is included in a recall. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Discrepancies in manufacturers and the NHTSA records can occur due to data entry errors, when people move residences, or when cars are resold without proper documentation.
Though tedious, the best way to know for sure is to check the NHTSA’s website and see if any recent recalls include your vehicle.
I Suspect That a Defective Car Part Caused my Car Accident. What Do I Do?
The best course of action is to contact a car accident lawyer. Your attorney will determine whether you have a case that you can build and the steps you need to receive compensation for any damages or injuries.
One of the first things that your personal injury lawyer has to do is see if liability and negligence can be established. In Florida, malfunctioning or defective car parts fall under product liability law.
This means that automobile parts manufacturers or distributors are legally and ethically responsible for ensuring that a product is safe when used as intended. They are also responsible for issuing warnings of known dangers associated with their product.
Manufacturers and distributors can be held liable if a plaintiff can prove that a defect in their product was directly caused or contributed to injuries or fatalities in an accident. There are three major defect types listed under Florida Product Liability Laws:
- Design – A design defect occurs when the product’s design is inherently unsafe, even if it is used correctly. Most manufacturers are not maliciously trying to inflict harm. However, if the plaintiff can prove that there was inadequate testing, and a deliberate choice was still made to go with the design, a case can be made for design defects.
- Manufacturing – Sometimes, the design itself is safe, but mistakes in the manufacturing process caused defects and unintended consequences. Manufacturing defects usually stem from haphazard manufacturing practices or substandard materials.
- Marketing – Some products come with inherent risks, even if used in the recommended way. Examples of such products are power tools and other appliances that produce heat. In this case, adequate warnings about the possible dangers must be explicitly stated in the packaging, advertisements, and other marketing materials.
- In the absence of such warnings, a manufacturer can be held liable for marketing defects.
That being said, one crucial factor that must be established is that the manufacturer was aware of the defects in their product and proceeded with mass manufacturing and distribution anyway. This constitutes negligence and holds whether the defect was in the design, manufacturing, or marketing.
Proving negligence is a complex process and can be challenging to do, but not impossible for a personal injury lawyer. To do this, your attorney and his or her legal team will comb through the manufacturer’s records and look for any sign that the company was aware of their negligence. If your lawyer uncovers a pattern of neglect, this can open up the possibility of suing for punitive damages on top of compensation for your injuries.
Aside from proving defects, plaintiffs must also fulfill the following requirements of a product liability claim.
- Evidence of Losses – Plaintiffs must show proof that they sustained and suffered because of injuries and monetary loss due to the manufacturer’s product. The amount of compensatory damages to be awarded will depend on the cost associated with the said losses.
The most critical documents to secure are your medical records and documentation of your lost wages in proving loss. Your medical records will contain information about your recovery costs, such as hospital bills, aftercare medicines, therapy costs, and other treatment-related expenses.
Meanwhile, an estimate of lost wages can be supplied by your employer. Be sure to ask for a detailed computation that accounts for your standard salary and lost overtime or bonuses when you started missing work.
- Proper Use of Product – As mentioned above, some products come with inherent dangers, which means manufacturers need to give out explicit warnings about appropriate usage. In a product liability claim, plaintiffs must establish that the injury occurred even when the product was used as intended.
In the cause of defective automobile products, you must rule out natural wear and tear. For example, suppose you kept using a pair of brake pads long past its rated use (usually between 25,000 to 70,000 miles, depending on the exact model and make). In that case, the defense may argue that improper use, not an inherent product flaw, had caused the accident and injuries.
- Proximate Cause – To be successful in a product liability claim, you will need to prove that a defective car part was your injuries’ primary cause. For example, if you suspect your faulty brake system caused your crash, you will have to show the court that the impact would not have happened if your brakes were working correctly.
In many cases, this can be tricky. Aside from ruling out natural wear and tear, you will also need to establish that your actions as a driver did not contribute to the accident. This means you need to prove that the accident happened even though you were driving safely with functional brake pads and engaged the brake mechanism from a distance that should have prevented the crash.
Suppose the defense uncovers evidence of negligence on your part and successfully argues that your actions contributed to the accident. In that case, your compensation could be reduced based on the percentage of liability you could be responsible for. This is possible because Florida courts adhere to the pure comparative negligence rule.
The pure comparative negligence rule allows plaintiffs to recover damages, even if they are partially to blame in an accident that caused their injuries.
Should I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
Class action lawsuits are lawsuits where one of the parties (usually the plaintiffs) comprises a group of people represented collectively by one entity. If there is an existing class-action lawsuit for the defective auto part that caused your injury, you can join it. That being said, you will want to ensure that the lawsuit’s circumstances are factually similar to yours.
A class-action lawsuit can be ideal because of three key advantages:
Lower costs of litigation
Product liability claims can be financially draining affairs. In between court fees and attorney’s fees, some plaintiffs may be tempted to settle with a lower compensation or decide not to pursue a case at all. WIth a class-action lawsuit, the expenses are spread among plaintiffs, making it easier for them to pursue litigation.
Higher certainty of being financially compensated
Unfortunately, a plaintiff will not see any kind of remuneration if the company being sued goes bankrupt. This scenario can happen if many plaintiffs file separate lawsuits against a company at around the same time. In this case, only the early plaintiffs will see actual compensation. Class action lawsuits help ensure that the damages are spread among claimants.
Faster and more consistent decisions
Each time a lawsuit is filed, a court has to make preparations to hear it in court. Depending on the matters of the case, each suit can take months, even years before a jury can arrive at a decision. With the claims being treated as one, inconsistent verdicts are also less of an issue. The biggest advantage of class-action lawsuits is that the cases are heard as one, making it more efficient for the courts and enabling them to come to a decision more quickly.
The disadvantage of joining a class-action lawsuit is that you lose your claim if the representatives lose the case. Since your claim has been merged with theirs, you will be prohibited from filing a claim later.
Using their expertise in dealing with product liability claims, your personal injury lawyer will advise you if joining a class-action lawsuit will prove advantageous to your cause.
Seeking a Lawyer for an Accident Related to Defective Car Parts
When you buy a car or any of its components brand new, you don’t and shouldn’t expect to be given defective parts, much less sustain injuries and damages during normal usage. If you believe that a defective product in Florida caused your injuries, you deserve to be compensated by the erring manufacturer under Florida’s product liability laws.
At Shiner Law Group, we specialize in representing individuals or groups who have sustained injuries and damages through no fault of their own. To get the best outcome for your product liability claim, contact a product liability lawyer today.