Auto accidents commonly occur due to problems with at least one of the automobiles involved in the crash, including single-car mishaps that occur for some unknown reason. In most accident cases, injured plaintiffs will file an insurance claim against the negligent driver or even several drivers if the accident is a multi-vehicle collision. But, when an accident occurs due to a provable defect in a vehicle, the case can quickly become a product liability claim as well when all of the material case factors are evaluated. Product liability cases can be simple in some instances and very complicated in others, especially when an accident attorney reconstruction specialist must inspect the vehicles for problems following a crash. Police jurisdictions also have accident reconstruction specialists who will provide a detailed report, and the final conclusion of all investigations can often serve as admissible evidence when evaluating the causation of the accident in question. However, the official accident report may or may not include information on the condition of the suspect vehicle and the part that may have malfunctioned during the accident. This potential situation is why it is very important to have an experienced product liability attorney involved in adjudicating an auto accident case of this nature.
Determining Who is Liable
Determining who is responsible for a malfunctioning vehicle part can be a complicated issue. As evidenced by the rash of Takata air bag accidents that have occurred in the past few years, forcing an ultimate government-required recall, many times every entity involved in the supply chain can be sued to finally arrive at ultimate fault assignment. And in many instances, product liability responsibility will apply to all. The legal question will then be the level of liability among the negligent parties. Parts manufacturers will probably be responsible for product design, while manufacturers will be responsible for the decision made to install a defective or poorly designed component. In addition, many times the malfunctioning part is also under warranty, and notification to owners of potentially defective parts can be a major case factor. When a parts or vehicle manufacturer realizes a problem with any part of a vehicle, they must make an effort to inform the public in a reasonable time frame. The track record of all respondents involved can also be reinforcing evidence, including inclusion on recall lists and documentation from prior accidents asserting similar claims.
Proving a Product Liability Claim
Proving a product liability claim begins just as any other personal injury civil claim. For a claim to exist, an injury must have occurred to the plaintiff and be either directly or indirectly caused by the respondent. This requires a plaintiff attorney to prove that a reasonable duty of care was owed to the injured party by the respondent, and that the respondent failed in fulfilling that duty properly. All manufacturers inherently are held liable for the safety of their products, and many times a product liability claim stemming from an automobile accident can be considered a strict liability case. Strict liability is the legal application that underscores this inherent responsibility, but the claims must still meet the test of being reasonable. However, negligence need not be proven in a strict liability claim. Several factors can come into play in the evaluation, as old vehicle parts are not always considered defective. But, when car parts are still under warranty or malfunction in a manner that is never intended, then strict liability or a warranty claim could either one be possible when a case is presented effectively.
Punitive Damage Potential
Product liability claims involving automotive parts that are already addressed on recall lists are usually not eligible for punitive damages because proving gross negligence could be difficult when the list is used in defense. But, in cases arising from isolated instances, these claims are usually defended aggressively by all potentially negligent actors when they think they can successfully deflect a claim to another party or have the case dismissed summarily. But, when gross negligence is apparent, the trend recently has been punitive damages awards from juries that want to send a message to the industry that faulty automotive parts are very serious concerns and a real danger on the highways. These isolated accident claims can be very long and frustrating legal procedures, and it always takes an experienced and thorough accident and product liability attorney to successful present the case for punitive damage assessment in a trial.
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