If you have been injured or suffered other kinds of damages because of a defective car, truck, SUV, motorcycle, ATV, or other motor vehicle (or vehicle part), you may have a product liability claim.
Some examples of motor vehicle defects that have been the subject of lawsuits in recent years include:
Here are some of the special features of product liability claims arising from defective cars, car parts, and other motor vehicles and parts. (To learn the basics of defective product claims, see Nolo's Product Liability FAQ.)
Product liability claims involving motor vehicles typically come in two varieties:
Defectively manufactured vehicles or vehicle parts. This type of claim involves vehicles or vehicle parts that have been improperly manufactured in some way. This may be the result of an error at the manufacturing facility where the vehicle or part was made, or a problem that occurs during shipping or at the dealership or supply.
Vehicles with an unreasonably dangerous design. This category of claims involves vehicles or parts that, although properly manufactured, have an unreasonably dangerous design that results in injury or other damages. Sometimes these cases involve vehicles or parts that have been on the market for some time before it is discovered that they are dangerous.
Be sure to identify and include in your lawsuit all potential defendants in your case. (To learn more about identifying defendants in products liability cases in general, read Nolo's article Defective Product Liability Claims: Who to Sue?.) This usually means including all participants in the "chain of distribution" of the motor vehicle or vehicle part involved in your case -- that is, the path the vehicle or part takes from the manufacturer to the consumer.
In cases involving motor vehicles, the chain of distribution usually includes the following types of defendants (there may be more than one defendant in any given category):
Manufacturer. In products liability cases involving motor vehicles, the manufacturer is typically a large company. This means it may have more money to compensate you for your injuries. But it also usually means that it will be able to hire a team of high-priced lawyers to defend the case.
Parts manufacturer. If your case involves a defective part, such as the tires or the battery, be sure to include the manufacturer of that part if it is a separate company from the vehicle manufacturer. You should sue both the vehicle manufacturer and the manufacturer of the defective part (unless you bought the defective part separately -- a replacement set of tires, for example -- in which case the vehicle manufacturer is not part of the chain of distribution and probably would not be liable).
Car dealership or automotive supply shop. Whoever sold the vehicle or the specific defective part may be liable to you for your damages -- even if you were not the actual buyer. To learn more about this, see "What if the Defective Vehicle Did Not Belong to Me?," below.
Middleman or shipper. Any company, including the shipper or other middlemen, that was part of the chain of distribution between the manufacturer of the defective vehicle or part and the dealership or other retailer where it was sold may be liable for your damages.
Used car dealer. Even if the vehicle involved in your case was bought used, the dealer who sold it may be liable in certain cases. This is a developing area of the law and may vary from state to state depending on the specific circumstances of your case.
Even if the defective vehicle involved in your case did not belong to you, you may still have a valid product liability claim. For example, if you borrowed someone else's defective motor vehicle or were injured by a defective vehicle driven by another driver, you may still have a valid claim and should include any and all of the types of defendants discussed above.
If you were involved in a traffic accident and either you or another driver was driving a defective motor vehicle, you may have both a product liability claim against the manufacturer (as well as other potential defendants discussed above) and a negligent driving claim against the other driver (in other words, a routine traffic accident claim).
The legal basis for a defective product claim is somewhat different from a negligent driving claim. (To learn more about negligent driving cases, read Nolo's article Car Accidents Caused by Negligence.) Fortunately, you do not have to choose. As long as they have a reasonable legal basis, you should include every available type of legal claim in your complaint.