Common Defective Car Parts: What to Do When They Cause Injury

Here’s what you need to know about liability for faulty car parts. You have a right to compensation for damages caused by negligent manufacturers.

Today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs are complicated, with elaborate mechanical and computerized parts that are constantly evolving.

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

If a faulty car part caused your auto accident, you have the right to demand compensation from the vehicle manufacturer.

Common Defective Car Parts

Over the years there have been many lawsuits and recalls for auto defects and dangerous car parts.

Common defective car parts include:

  • Airbags
  • Seatbelts
  • Tires
  • Gas tanks and fuel systems
  • Accelerator controls
  • Brake system parts
  • Latches
  • Wiring
  • Steering system parts

Case Example: 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. The defective 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.

Even the latest innovations in motor vehicle technology have become the subject of product liability lawsuits. For example, there are pending lawsuits against Tesla alleging defective auto-pilot systems.

There are also claims and lawsuits against GM and other electronic car manufacturers for alleged defects with the vehicles’ lithium-ion batteries that cause the vehicle to catch fire.

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

The standards are 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.”

Do I Have a Grounds for a Car Part Lawsuit?

When car parts fail and people are injured, the vehicle manufacturer or the auto part manufacturer may be forced to pay for the victim’s damages, such as medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Your case against the manufacturer will be based on product liability law.

How product liability works:

  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 can involve 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.
  • 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 defective tires made with shoddy tread.
  • Marketing defects (“Failure to Warn”) occur 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 seat belts and harnesses.

Case Example: 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.

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 defective auto parts 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 Recalls.gov.

How to Build a Product Liability Case

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

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

The success of a product liability case depends on strong evidence collected at the scene of the accident and gathered later by an attorney.

Evidence of your accident and injuries may include:

  • Photographs and videos: 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 defective vehicle part. Take pictures of the victim’s injuries as soon as possible after the accident, and throughout treatment.
  • Witness statements: 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.
  • Medical records: These prove you were injured in the accident. Your medical costs are a major part of calculating compensation. Request copies of your medical records and bills, receipts for out-of-pocket medical expenses, costs of transportation to and from treatment, and proof of any other treatment-related costs.
  • Lost wages: Lost income is an important part of any 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.

Evidence your legal team will gather may include:

  • Expert testimony from engineers and other specialists to prove the existence of a car part defect
  • Design specifications and production records from the manufacturer
  • Reports of injuries and accidents from the same part defect prior to your accident
  • Internal reports and communications showing the manufacturer knew or should have known about the hazard

Defective product cases are complicated and expensive, but not out of reach for anyone with strong evidence.

Big car makers have big legal departments ready to fight injured people like you. Only experienced product liability attorneys have the resources and knowledge to handle serious defective car part 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.

Defective Car Parts Questions

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 >>