Defective Car Parts: How to Build a Product Liability Injury Claim

Here’s what you need to know about faulty car parts and accessories, injury claims, and how to get compensation from the vehicle manufacturer.

Today’s cars and trucks are safer than ever. Today’s vehicles are also much more complicated, with elaborate mechanical and computerized parts and accessories.

From small towns to major metropolitan areas, our roadways are more crowded every day. Nine out of ten households have at least one vehicle. Many have two or more. ¹

Vehicles are part of our daily lives. When important parts or accessories fail, the results can be devastating.

If you or a loved one are injured in a car accident, you have the right to seek compensation from the person who caused the crash. If a faulty car part caused the accident, you have the same right to demand compensation from the vehicle manufacturer.

Product Liability and Car Parts

When car parts fail and people are injured, who’s going to pay for the victim’s damages, such as medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering?

The answer can be found by understanding the idea of product liability:

  1. Car makers have a legal duty of care to make sure their products (vehicles and parts) don’t cause injuries to the public.
  2. If they fail in their duty, they are negligent (to blame).
  3. Negligent car manufacturers are financially liable (responsible) for any injuries their products cause.

A product liability claim for car parts can involves these types of product defects:

Design defects are mistakes or flaws built into the car part when it’s first manufactured, or during design modifications, like a throttle system that makes a car surge forward.

Case Summary: Fatal Acceleration Defect

On September 20, 2007, Jean Bookout was seriously injured and her passenger Barbara Schwarz was killed when Bookout’s Toyota Camry surged out of control and crashed.

Attorneys representing Ms. Bookout and the family of Ms. Schwarz filed a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation alleging the accident was caused by defects in the car’s throttle control system.

Evidence was presented at trial to show that software in the Toyota Camry that controlled the vehicle’s electronic throttle control system “was poorly designed and did not conform to industry standards.”

The jury agreed, finding the software was defective and that Toyota acted in reckless disregard for the victims’ safety.

The jury returned a verdict totaling $3 million, with $1.5 million awarded to each plaintiff.

Manufacturing defects can occur even if the product was safely designed, but there was a mistake while the part was being made, like a batch of tires made with defective tread.

Marketing defects (“Failure to Warn”) happens when the manufacturer doesn’t provide the user with enough information to safely use the product, like failing to warn about the age and size limits for child car seats.

Case Summary: Failure to Warn About Car Seat  

In May 2013, The Hinson family was traveling with their 20-month old baby, “C.H.” buckled into a Safety 1st car seat. The car seat was mounted in the back seat, behind the front passenger seat.

The family was involved in an accident with a Chevy Suburban that crossed the center line and hit the family’s car.

C.H. suffered a spinal cord injury that left him permanently paralyzed. He will never be able to walk.

The Hinson’s attorney filed a lawsuit against the car seat manufacturer for failing to warn about the dangers of front-facing car seats for children as young as C.H. The family alleged the manufacturer:

“…knew or should have known of a potential risk of enhanced and serious injury to very young children resulting from being positioned in the subject forward facing car seat but marketed the car seat without any adequate warning of the danger or providing any instructions for its safe use in light of this danger.”

In June 2016, the jury awarded $24 million to the family for the child’s injuries, disability, and future lost earnings. The jury also awarded an additional $10 million to the family for punitive damages.

Common Car Parts with Manufacturer Defects

Over the years there have been many lawsuits and recalls for defective and dangerous car parts. Some of the most commonly affected parts are:

  • Airbags
  • Seatbelts
  • Tires
  • Gas tanks
  • Accelerator controls
  • Brake system parts
  • Wiring
  • Steering system parts

Case Summary: Faulty Airbag Class Action Settlement

In early 2018, Ford Motor Company entered into a $299 million agreement to settle a class action lawsuit over defective Takata airbags installed in some Ford vehicles.

Visit the Ford Airbag Settlement page to complete an online Registration/Claim Form.

The Takata airbags can explode, especially after exposure to temperature fluctuations and high humidity. The exploding airbags forcefully spray metal shrapnel.

Drivers and passengers in the U.S. have died from blunt force trauma, injuries to the head and neck, and massive bleeding caused by the flying metal.

Claimants can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses. Claimants who can’t prove their expenses may still be eligible for payments up to $500.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations

Under the U.S. Department of Transportation, federal safety standards have been in effect since January 1, 1968.

The standards have been regularly updated to ensure:

“[T]hat the public is protected against unreasonable risk of crashes occurring as a result of the design, construction, or performance of motor vehicles and is also protected against unreasonable risk of death or injury in the event crashes do occur.”

Manufacturers of motor vehicles and equipment, including car parts and accessories, are required to comply with government safety standards.

Pay Attention to Vehicle Recalls

Companies that manufacture cars, trucks, and vehicle parts and accessories have a legal obligation to comply with state and federal safety standards.

Sometimes car manufacturers only find out about a defective part after someone is injured.

Manufacturers want to protect their corporate reputation. They also want to protect their bottom line. The last thing they want is to be sued because they failed to issue a recall right away.

Vehicle manufacturers will issue recall notices directly to car buyers, and through news sources.

When you are notified of a recall and fail to have the dangerous part replaced, you are taking a risk. If the part fails and you get hurt, you might not be able to blame the manufacturer for your injuries.

Look for motor vehicle recalls at the U.S. government portal

OEM or After-Market Parts?

When you take your vehicle to the shop, you might need to decide whether to have an OEM or “After-Market” part installed on your car.

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. Your vehicle’s manufacturer makes OEM parts. They are the same as the parts that originally came with your car or truck.

OEM parts are:

  • More expensive
  • Only available through a dealership
  • Consistent quality (should be as good as the original part)
  • Not always superior to after-market parts
  • Under warranty most of the time

After-Market parts are any vehicle parts that do not come straight from the vehicle’s manufacturer. Years ago, all after-market parts were considered inferior, cheap knock-offs.

These days, many automotive experts say after-market parts can be as good, or even better than OEM. But not always.

After-Market parts are:

  • Less expensive
  • Used in most independent car repair shops
  • Sometimes better than the OEM version
  • Available from a wide variety of makers
  • Not consistent quality
  • Easier to get

Controversy over the use of after-market parts for car repairs has raged for years when it comes to auto insurance claims for property damage.

It’s no secret that insurance companies hate to spend money on accident claims. One way insurance adjusters cut costs is only to authorize repairs with after-market parts. Many consumers complain the after-market parts don’t work as well or wear out much sooner than if their car had been fixed with OEM parts.

If you or a family member are injured because of a defective after-market part, you won’t be able to seek compensation from your vehicle’s manufacturer.

Evidence of Car Part Liability

The success of your product liability case will depend on strong evidence. Your attorney will arrange for expert testimony to support your claim.

The evidence you gather from your accident and injuries is equally important:

Photographs and video taken at the scene can be invaluable. Photographic evidence captures the cause of the injury and the dramatic nature of the accident scene forever.

Take as many photographs as you can of the broken car part. Do the same with video. You can’t take too many pictures. Include shots from every angle, close-ups, and pictures with other items for size comparison.

Likewise, take pictures of the victim’s injuries as soon as possible after the accident, and throughout treatment.

Witness statements can be vital. Family and friends are okay, but independent eyewitnesses are much better. Independent witnesses have no personal or financial interest in the outcome of your claim, so juries give more weight to their testimony.

Gather the names and contact information of anyone who may have seen what happened. If they are willing to write it down, have them sign and date their statement.

Medical records prove you were injured in the accident. The total of your medical costs is a major part of compensation calculations. Request copies of your medical records and bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, costs of transportation to and from treatment, and proof of any other treatment-related costs.

Lost wages are an important part of an injury claim. Ask for a letter from your employer verifying your lost wages. Be sure your employer recounts the dates and times you were absent from work, your lost income, and lost overtime or bonuses.

When You Will Need an Attorney

You might be able to handle your own claim if you suffered only minor, soft tissue injuries. For smaller claims, you might be able to make your claim directly to the dealership or retailer.

For severe injuries or wrongful death cases caused by defective car parts or accessories, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to go after the negligent manufacturer.

Big car makers have big legal departments ready to fight injured people like you. Product liability cases are complicated and expensive, but not out of reach for anyone with a strong injury claim.

Experienced attorneys have the resources and knowledge to handle complex product liability cases.

Most personal injury attorneys will represent injury victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning they won’t be paid any fees unless your case settles or you win a court verdict.

Don’t give up without a fight. It costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you and your family.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>