While most injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents are the result of human error, some can be attributed to a malfunction of the vehicle itself. However, before we blame any instance of vehicular disrepair on the manufacturer, it is important to distinguish between vehicle malfunction that is the result of owner negligence and vehicle malfunction that is traceable to the manufacturer.
As the owner of a vehicle, you are expected to perform routine maintenance, repair any problems, and generally ensure that your car is running safely. Any negligence on your part will shift liability from the manufacturer to you. However, if you are responsible in safely maintaining and operating your vehicle, the liability for a malfunction may fall squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturer.
In Pennsylvania, you may have a claim against an automobile manufacturer if the malfunction was a “substantial factor” in causing your injury. Generally, in products liability cases, a defective product can cause harm in one of several ways :
The product was manufactured without a necessary safety feature
The product was inherently unsafe; or
The product failed to warn its users about the possible dangers associated with its use.
As a “strict liability” state, Pennsylvania requires only that an injured individual establish a relationship between the vehicle malfunction and the injury that malfunction caused. If your injury can be reasonably traced to the fault of the vehicle’s manufacturer, that manufacturer is liable.
Some classic examples of such manufacturer liability are seatbelt and airbag malfunction, defective tires, sudden acceleration, and loose breaks. The prevalence of these malfunctions is evident by the staggering number of recalls being issued by automobile manufacturers. Just recently, Honda, Chrysler, G.M., Mercedes, and Yakima each announced recalls in order to replace defective components. Chrysler recently recalled 1.56 million Jeeps alone!
Clearly, these recalls are performed with an eye on decreasing manufacturer liability. If done properly, a recall is a much cheaper alternative for vehicle manufacturers than a lawsuit. While this may seem simple, recalls are often mishandled or poorly advertised. If a vehicle manufacturer issues a recall but fails to notify the consumer, that manufacturer remains liable.
After any accident, be sure to inspect the various components of your vehicle. While most accidents are attributable to user error, it is possible that the extent of your injuries was made worse by defective or malfunctioning equipment.
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.