Auto Defects


An unfortunate reality for people injured or killed in a motor vehicle collision is that most drivers carry only the minimum auto insurance that their state requires. And with minimum requirements ranging from only $15,000 to $50.000 , a negligent driver likely is vastly underinsured!  When handling auto crash cases, you must be diligent and identify all potential failures that resulted in injury-an auto defect may result in more serious injuries than occurred otherwise.

The Takata air bag and GM ignition switch scandals may look like unprecedented auto safety crises, but are they? Before them, there was Toyota’s sudden acceleration defect.  The Ford/ Firestone stability and rollover defects, dangerous passive seat belt unlatching, and Ford Pinto fuel-fed fires.  And between each of these high-profile auto defect crises were countless other auto defects that caused catastrophic injury or death. Each one highlights the critical importance of carefully evaluating every motor \’Chicle crash case for a potential auto product defect.

Although some auto defects cause collisions – for example, the Toyota sudden acceleration or GM ignition switches-these claims more often involve “crashworthiness” or “enhanced injury.” Crash worthiness claims arise when a vehicle fails in a manner that causes more serious injuries than would have occurred without the defect. The common law “second collision” doctrine permits a plaintiff to recover when a manufacturer fails to design a vehicle to protect occupants in the event of a crash.  This

claim only covers enhanced injuries caused by defective design.  So the vehicle manufacturer is liable for those injuries regardless of how or why the accident happened-though some states allow defendants to compare the plaintiff’s fault in the initial crash. For example, in 2011, the Florida legislature amended state law to expressly permit juries to consider and compare the fault of all sources- even nonparties and even in the initial collision-potentially responsible for the injury:’

When evaluating whether an auto defect contributed to an injury or death, consider these four scenarios:

  • A minor collision at residential speeds results in catastrophic injury or death. When your vehicle inspection and accident report suggest that injuries should have been minor, but you were seriously injured, that may indicate an auto defect. Occupants should not be catastrophically injured in a minor collision.
  • A single occupant is severely injured or killed while other occupants suffer minor, if any, injuries. If other occupants can walk away from a collision when your client was severely injured.  That strongly indicates that an auto defect caused your client’s injuries to be worse than they would have been otherwise.
  • Failure of or severe damage to a localized area of the vehicle. Substantial damage to a small area of the vehicle suggests that area or component failed. These cases include tire blowout, roof crush, and seat-back failure. Each of these components can fail in a manner that causes more damage in one area than to the rest of the vehicle.
  • Seat-belted occupants are seriously injured or ejected. Seat belts should protect occupants,  not injure them. Belt-induced injuries-such as abdominal and spinal cord injuries are a telltale sign of a seat belt failure.” Seat belt also should keep occupants inside the vehicle. Ejection injuries to a belted occupant suggest that the belt failed to properly restrain that person.

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