Today’s cars and trucks are safer than ever. But even in this age of advanced technology, injuries still occur. In addition to accidents caused by driver negligence, car parts and accessories can fail. When they do, people are often injured.
There are two types of car parts, after-market and original equipment manufacturer (OEM). OEM parts should be used to replace those damaged in a car accident, since they’re as reliable as the originals. Unfortunately, unless you demand OEM parts, the repair shop may use the less expensive, foreign manufactured, after-market parts.
After-market “add-on” car parts and accessories are free from governmental oversight, unlike parts made by the major car manufacturers. Quantity, not quality, is the mindset of most after-market parts manufacturers.
Negligence and Product Liability
When after-market parts and accessories fail and people are injured, a question of liability often arises. 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 reviewing the legal doctrines of negligence and product liability.
When a car part fails and causes injuries, the manufacturer and retailer of the faulty part may have breached their legal duty to the injured person. This is the basis of a product liability claim, along with evidence of damages.
After-market Car Parts and Accessories
Because they’re inferior quality, after-market car parts and accessories may fail before OEM parts do. Here’s a few examples of personal injury cases resulting from faulty car parts:
Example: Faulty running boards
Mr. Jose Munoz lived in Los Angeles, California. He decided to purchase running boards for his late model Chevy Tahoe. He purchased the fiberglass boards from a local retailer who specialized in window tinting, stereo installations, running boards, and other after-market car accessories. Jose also paid to have them installed.
Several weeks later, Ms. Munoz, who weighed 112 pounds, stepped onto the passenger-side running board. As she did, the fiberglass cracked and she fell to the hard concrete below. Ms. Munoz sustained a broken right tibia and fibula in the fall, as well as lacerations from the splintered fiberglass.
Mr. and Ms. Munoz retained a personal injury attorney with experience in product liability cases. After hiring experts in the field of fiberglass, the attorney was able to prove the design and manufacturing of the running board was flawed.
The trial revealed that the running boards were made in China and constructed of cheaper, inferior fiberglass. The jury awarded Ms. Munoz $6,050 in medical bills, $480 for her out-of-pocket expenses, $4,200 in lost wages, and $25,000 for her pain and suffering.
Example: Failing to install a cut-off switch
Ms. Susan Aiken lived in North Dakota and recently purchased a used 2002 Satellite automobile. Several months later she drove to the Evanston Mall, and went to retrieve a bag from the trunk. While behind the car with the trunk open, her three-year-old daughter was playing with the window switch, raising and lowering it.
While sticking her head out the window, her four-year-old brother raised it, catching his sister’s neck. The pressure from the raised window was strong enough to cut off the young girl’s circulation, and she lost consciousness.
She was in a coma for over twelve hours. When she finally awoke she’d only sustained a scar from the sharp window glass. Fortunately there was no permanent damage. Nevertheless, Ms. Aiken retained an attorney who filed a product liability lawsuit on her daughter’s behalf.
The attorney hired experts in the field of automobile construction and design, who took apart the car’s window and closely examined it. During the trial, the expert witnesses testified the design of the window switch was faulty, and as a result, there was nothing to stop the window from closing.
All it would have taken to prevent the injury was for the manufacturing company to have installed a six dollar cut-off switch. In this case, the jury awarded all the child’s medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses, plus $20,000 in pain and suffering, and $2 million in punitive damages (for the manufacturing company’s gross negligence).
Proving Your Injury Claim
Proving a defective car parts case requires evidence. If you’ve been injured by a faulty car part or accessory, gather as much of the following forms of evidence as possible:
Photographs and video
Photo and video evidence can be invaluable. They capture 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 and the victim’s injuries. Do the same with video. Be sure to get as many angles as possible, and take wide shots and close-ups.
Witness statements can be vital. Family and friends are okay, but independent eyewitnesses are much better. They have no personal or financial interest in the outcome of your claim, and are therefore taken more seriously by insurance adjusters and juries.
Ask witnesses to write down what they saw, and how you or a loved one was injured. Be sure to have them sign and date their statements at the bottom of every page.
Medical records, bills, receipts, etc.
Without proof of damages, you don’t have a case. Gather copies of your medical records and bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses (medications, bandages, etc.), costs of transportation to and from treatment, and proof of any other treatment-related costs.
If your injuries and treatment made you miss work, you’ll need a formal letter (on company letterhead) from your employer verifying your lost wages. Be sure your employer recounts all the dates and times you were absent from work, and the exact amount of compensation you lost as a result.
Hiring an Attorney
You may be able to handle your own claim if you suffered only minor, soft tissue injuries. If the failed product was sold and installed by a local car dealer or retail store, and your injuries are soft tissue, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court.
When injuries are more serious, and your claim is based on product liability against the manufacturer, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to handle your case. Product liability lawsuits require substantial amounts of money and advanced legal skills. Things you probably don’t have.
Only experienced attorneys have the resources and time necessary for these types of cases. Most don’t charge for an initial office consultation. Make appointments with several attorneys in your area and bring all your evidence. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by seeking a professional case evaluation .
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