Theories of Liability in Defective Motor Vehicle Cases

(Page 2 of 2 of Product Liability Claims Involving Defective Cars )

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There are several legal theories of liability available in defective motor vehicle cases. These include:

  • Breach of express warranties. If the vehicle or part involved in your case came with any sort of written warranty or guarantee, the defect may constitute a violation (or "breach," in legalese) of that warranty.
  • Breach of implied warranties. Most states impose certain minimum standards on products (known as "implied warranties"), regardless of whatever express warranties came with the product. The particular vehicle defect in your case may constitute a violation of those implied warranties.
  • Strict products liability. Many states have adopted strict products liability laws, which relieve you of any burden of having to show that the manufacturer or supplier of a defective vehicle or part was not sufficiently careful in making or distributing that product (a big advantage to you!). You just have to show that the vehicle or part is somehow defective and that the defect was the cause of your injury or damages.

Additional legal arguments may be available to you depending on the particular circumstances of your case. (To learn more, read Nolo's article Defective Product Claims: Theories of Liability.)

Proving Your Claim

You will have to prove three things in order to win your lawsuit:

  • you were injured or suffered other types of losses ("almost injured" doesn't count)
  • the vehicle involved in your case was defectively manufactured or dangerously designed, and
  • the manufacturing defect or dangerous design was the cause of your injury.

In products liability cases involving motor vehicles, the outcome often comes down to the third issue listed above. One of the most common defenses raised by the vehicle manufacturer in such cases is that it was the plaintiff's poor or reckless driving -- not the vehicle itself -- that is to blame for the injuries. (For a more detailed discussion of what you must prove in defective product claims in general, read Nolo's article Proving a Defective Product Liability Claim.)

Class Action Lawsuits

If the vehicle at issue involved a mass-produced defect or a dangerous design, you may be able to band together with other injured people and file a class action lawsuit.

In some cases, a class action may already have been filed in connection with the particular vehicle defect involved in your case (the class action filed in connection with allegedly defective tires on certain Pontiac GTO models is one recent example), and you may have the option of joining that already-existing lawsuit. Joining an existing class action has several advantages:

  • the lawyers for the class, who may have considerable experience and expertise in bringing big cases against big companies, will become your lawyers as well
  • there will likely be little or no upfront cost to you, and
  • you will not have to sort out potentially complex legal issues, such as where to file your claim.

You also have the option of not joining an existing class action and bringing your own lawsuit instead. This may be appropriate if the nature of your injuries or damages are substantially different from those of other members of the class action, or if there are special circumstances in your case.

Consider consulting with a lawyer to find out if there is an already-existing class action concerning the defective vehicle involved in your case, and if so, whether it is advisable for you to join that class action. (If there is an already-existing class action, consider contacting the lawyers for the class directly; they will likely be very interested in talking with you.) Such initial consultations are usually free of charge.

Getting Help

The legal and mechanical issues in defective car cases are typically complex and highly technical. If you wish to consult with a lawyer (and perhaps even one who specializes in motor vehicle cases), read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or, go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience, if any, with products liability cases in general and motor vehicle cases in particular).

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