Legal Theories In Vehicle Product Liability Cases

Driver error causes the vast majority of the car crashes in Georgia, but defective products causes up to one in ten of these incidents.  Sometimes even if a vehicle defect did not cause the crash, a defect in the vehicle may make a crash worse—for instance, the airbag may fail to deploy, making injuries worse.  When that happens, an injured person can bring a claim against the manufacturer under what courts call the “enhanced injury” doctrine.  In severe cases, we have found that the vehicle, tire, or other manufacturer knew about the defect, yet did not correct it or make the product safe for ordinary use.

Victims in these cases are usually entitled to compensation for their medical bills and other direct losses, as well as pain and suffering and other indirect losses.  Additionally, due to the callousness of the corporation which knowingly sold a dangerous product, juries can also award substantial punitive damages in these cases.  A punitive damages cap may apply in some cases.

Negligence

If the product’s designers did not use ordinary care during product development, the company may be negligent, and the victim may be entitled to damages that are directly related to said negligence.  Typically, the industry standard is relevant to the standard of care.  For example,  because most vehicle manufacturers place a vehicle’s gas tank inside the frame and in a protected area, it is negligent for a manufacturer to place the gas tank in a more vulnerable location.

Victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, a legal term which means “more likely than not.”

Strict Liability

In most defective product cases, however, victim/plaintiffs need not prove negligence, because most manufacturers who make and sell such products are liable for damages as a matter of law.  Liability could attach because of a:

  • Inherently Dangerous Product: This category is usually limited to dynamite, fireworks, and other products that cannot be made completely safe no matter how careful the manufacturer may be.
  • Design Defect: Some designs, such as the aforementioned gas tank alignment, are inherently dangerous, and such products should never be sold.
  • Manufacturing Defect: In other cases, the product as designed was safe, but there is an error in the manufacturing or shipping process that renders it unsafe. Such defects are especially common in mass-produced products and/or goods that are shipped over long distances. If the defect occurred before the product left the manufacturer’s control, the manufacturer is liable for damages as a matter of law.
  • Implied Warranty: If the product is new, Section 2-314 of the Uniform Commercial Code usually applies. If the goods fall short of a certain standard, such as fitness for their ordinary purpose, the manufacturer is liable for damages.

In strict liability cases, victim/plaintiffs need only establish a connection between the product and their personal injury or property damages.

Dangerous vehicles cause many car crashes.  For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, contact Butler Tobin.