Who is Liable for Accidents Caused by Mechanical Failure?

“In recent tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or what most of us know it better as, IIHS, the Escape and Outlander Sport did not impress anyone with their overlap crash protection on the passenger side. IIHS did its small overlap front test on the two SUVs, which it introduced last year to try to get automakers to give front passengers the same level of protection as drivers, and let’s just say most of us wouldn’t have wanted to be those crash-test dummies.

The small overlap test rams vehicles into a wall, trying to imitate a crash where only a quarter of the car’s front end hits a tree or post at 40 mph. This round of tests was on seven 2018 small SUVS, including the BMW X1, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Mitsubishi Outlander, Jeep Compass, and the two that didn’t do so well—the Outlander Sport, which IIHS gave a “marginal” rating on the passenger overlap test, and Escape, which got a “poor” rating.

Jalopnik has reached out to both Ford and Mitsubishi for comment on the SUVs’ crash tests. Here’s the video IIHS took during testing:”

Read the full article from Jalopnik here.

Product Liability and Personal Injury Claims

Automobile manufacturers put every vehicle they make through stringent safety testing, and are constantly engineering new ways to improve passenger safety in their vehicles. For the most part their efforts are successful, but there are unfortunate occasions where a vehicle failure or malfunction ends in tragedy, and costs someone their life.

Most of the time car troubles are just an irritation, like a headlight out, a flat tire, or dead battery. Sometimes, however, car trouble can be hazardous, and even lethal if a malfunction occurs at freeway speeds, or someone’s brakes fail.

In this article, we will discuss how the law treats car accidents caused by a defect or failure related to the vehicle itself. Of course each accident case is unique, but they all adhere to the same underlying principles.

Scenario #1: A Manufacturing Error

Compared to a generation ago, cars and trucks have changed pretty dramatically. Now things like airbags, crumple-zones, roll-cages and 5-point restraints are commonplace in our daily drivers, and they have all saved countless lives. Unfortunately, automobile manufacturers are in the business of making money, and occasionally the drive for profit overshadows the responsibility to our safety.

When a manufactured product inflicts harm, causes injury, pain or suffering, the the victim potentially has a “product liability” case. Legally, there are two ways a victim can hold manufacturers responsible for injuries or death.

These two areas are:

Design flaws:

If it can be proven that the faulty product in question was made by the manufacturer, then “they” might have financial responsibility for your damages. A recent example of this situation includes a faulty ignition switch in the Chevy Cobalt. This failure could result in the car shutting off while driving, or even burst into flames, simply because an engineer did not design and test the parts properly.

Production errors:

Even if a vehicle has been designed flawlessly, negligence is still possible in other areas of the manufacturing process.

If such negligence resulted in a malfunction, and that malfunction results in an accident, the victim of the accident may be able to file a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the car.

What is Negligence? 

Scenario #2: A Mechanic Error

The majority of the time, when we take a vehicle in to our mechanic, we can trust their experience and training to keep our vehicles operating safely. Of course we want a reasonable price for service, but we also want the work to be performed properly. This is true of any automotive service we need, but doubly so with things like brakes, tires, and steering. If any of those things fail, the consequences can be catastrophic. In the unfortunate event that a vehicle is repaired incorrectly, and the malfunction results in an accident or injuries, then the shop may be liable for the damages.

Most reputable repair shops, say Pep Boys, or Big O Tires, for example have the quality control standards, and insurance in place in case such an  event occurs, but many “private” mechanics may not. Unfortunately with these “shade-tree” mechanics, there is often little recourse, because they do not have the assets or means to compensate you for your injuries.

Scenario #3: Owner Error

Tons of folks work on their own vehicles, from basic maintenance to full-on customization. We respect and admire those who can save themselves a bit of money by doing their own services, provided they can execute them properly and safely. Sadly, we have had more than our fair share of cases where a vehicle’s brakes failed and cit a clients car, and we later discover the responsible party was his “own mechanic.”

According to the law, ignorance is not bliss. DIY mechanics must take all reasonable measure to ensure they are putting safe, soundly operating vehicles back out on the road. Once you take responsibility for making your own vehicle repairs, you have a duty to complete them correctly. Pleading ignorance will not absolve a DIY mechanic of liability in the event his repairs cause an accident or injuries.

Take a look at Car Accident Settlements 101 for more information on how settlements are determined. 

Can the driver of the malfunctioning vehicle be held liable?

When a malfunction in a vehicle leads to an accident, we often hear the question of whether the driver in the malfunctioning vehicle can still be liable for damages caused.

It depends. Often times a mechanical failure will remove any liability from the driver. This being said, if the driver suspected or even knew there was a potential for failure, he or she could be found negligent for the damage caused.

Why can s/he be held liable? Driving is a privilege, not a right, and with that privilege, there are certain duties and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is only take safely-operating vehicles out onto the roads.

Contact the Law Offices of Zappettini & Bradley

As you may be realizing, cases like these are incredibly convoluted and intricate. Having an experienced accident attorney on your side can make all the difference in you receiving the proper amount of compensation for your injuries. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Zappettini & Bradley have experience in both product liability and car accident cases, and we are willing to go to trial if needed to make sure you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a FREE CASE EVALUATION.