In 2013, there were 5,615,000 police-reported crashes in the U.S. They resulted in more than 33,500 deaths and 2,362,000 million Americans being treated in emergency departments. The economic impact of these numbers is also significant if we consider both property damage and the costs of long-term treatment required for injured victims.
The most common causes of motor vehicle accidents include various types of driver negligence, like distracted driving, speeding, reckless driving, or drunk driving. Even though defective automobiles are not among the most common causes of motor vehicle accidents, they can be contributing factors. If a manufacturing or a design defect was the cause of the injury, the injured victims or their surviving family members can file a product liability lawsuit to recover financial compensation.
Auto Parts in California Legislation
What Is a "Lemon" and How Does the "Lemon Law" Work?
In Sacramento, when you buy or lease a defective motor vehicle, you have various rights under both federal and state law.
A "lemon" is a vehicle that has repeated defects that impair its safety, use, or value. The rules differ from state to state. In California, The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (popularly known as the "Lemon Law") presumes that during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, the manufacturer had the chance to enough attempts to repair the vehicle. Therefore, any vehicle that has at least one of the following problems within the warranty period can be considered a lemon:
- It has a serious defect that the dealer couldn't fix in at least 4 attempts;
- The vehicle has been out of service for at least 30 (cumulative and not consecutive) days since its purchase.
If the vehicle is a "lemon" you qualify to request the manufacturer one of the following:
- Refund the cost of the vehicle.
This applies only to owners of new vehicles. The Lemon Law gives to the owner the means to force the manufacturer to buy the defective vehicle back. In case you opt for a refund, you have to know that it does not include the price you pay for non-manufacturer items that are installed by the dealer.
For either replacement or refund, the manufacturer is responsible for payment of:
- Sales or use tax;
- License, registration;
- Other official fees;
- Incidental damages that the buyer or the lessee may have incurred such as repair/towing, finance charges, costs of a rental car.
According to the Lemon Law:
- The buyer or the lessee can be charged for the use of the car;
- The law is applicable for the period of warranty;
- If the issue appeared due to post-purchase, the law doesn't apply;
- You have to closely follow the warranty terms for maintenance and proper use of the car;
- The statute of limitations (the deadline) for bringing a lawsuit for breach of warranty or for Lemon Law violations is 4 years.
Important: Many car dealerships are helpful with getting a lemon replaced or repaired, but it's safer to keep your own records and get a repair order for every repair, even if the repair shop doesn't attempt a repair. A repair order has to show the defect you report, and the dates your car was in the shop.
If you have a "lemon", here are the steps you need to follow if the dealer won't help you adequately:
- Write to the car producer and demand a vehicle buyback
- If the manufacturer balks at repurchasing your car, you have two options: hire a lawyer that specializes in Lemon Law, or ask the manufacturer if they offer an arbitration program;
- Check your owner's manual or call California's Consumer Affairs Hotline at (800) 952-5210 to see if the manufacturer offers an arbitration program. Request an application form and a copy of the program regulations;
- If you join the arbitration, it's the manufacturer's duty to schedule a hearing within 40 days;
- Compile all your documents regarding the car's problem (service reports, work orders, a copy of your warranty, the car's downtime calendar);
- Attend the arbitration hearing in person. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can file a suit against the manufacturer;
- If you file a lawsuit, and the verdict is in your favor, the manufacturer has 30 days to pay you. If you are not sure about how to proceed with a lawsuit, it's better to hire a lawyer who is experienced with this type of action.
For more details, check National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Vehicle Safety.
For legal advice regarding your rights, you should consult O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm.
Types of Injuries Caused by Defective Auto Parts
What Is a Defective Auto Part?
NHTSA considers an auto component defective when there is a high risk of causing an accident. Defective auto parts can refer to:
- Steering parts that suddenly break;
- Fuel system defects, which can increase the chances of a fire during an accident;
- Engine cooling issues, which can cause a fire;
- Windshield wiper systems, which fail to operate properly;
- Faulty wiring;
- Faulty brake system;
- Car jacks that collapse;
- Defective airbags that may fail to deploy during an accident;
- Defective belts on the child safety seats that end up harming children.
Car part defects can be responsible for a series of injuries, such as:
- Back injuries;
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Broken bones.
These can lead to a series of issues you have to face, including:
- Long-term health effects (including permanent scars);
- Physical therapy;
- Hospital bills;
- Extensive surgeries;
- Emotional trauma;
- Rehabilitation programs that require extensive medical treatment.
Prevent Defective Auto Part Accidents
Every year, millions of Americans are injured or killed in accidents caused by defective auto parts. Resulting injuries are the main cause of death for people younger than 35, outnumbering deaths from heart disease or cancer.
Automakers recalled around 64 million current and past vehicle models in 2014. There is an estimated number of 46 million vehicles still on the roads that have not been recalled yet, despite having faulty parts.
It is essential to be mindful of auto safety and defective auto component recalls and:
- Don't neglect periodic maintenance and follow the manufacturer's maintenance calendar from the owner's manual;
- Check the NHTSA's website to see if your automobile has been requested to return;
- Inform the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about any potential safety defect.
Types of Defective Automobiles
At the Sacramento & Elk Grove-based O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm, experienced product liability lawyers know how difficult it is to actually prove that a manufacturing design defect was a substantial cause of an auto accident. In some cases mechanical failure is obvious. An exploding or malfunctioning airbag, a tire blowout, or a gas tank explosion will leave visible signs even for non-specialists. However, most often the cause of the accident is not obvious. Detailed technical expertise will be required to determine whether a defective fuel system, defective ignition, or engine malfunction was involved in the tragic event. Some of the most commonly reported mechanical failures that cause serious accidents include:
- Defective/exploding airbags;
- Failed seat belt clasp;
- Defective brakes;
- Failed door locks;
- Defective tires;
- Sticking gas pedal;
- Roof crush;
- Engine malfunction;
- Defective fuel system;
- Defective ignition;
- Defective windshield;
- Seat back failure;
- Defective door latches;
- Gas tank explosions.
All these mechanical defects can result in various types of accidents from losing control of the vehicle and causing a collision to rollovers, vehicle fires, occupant ejection, and even death. For example, a poorly made tire can fail, blowout, or de-tread. A vehicle with a tire failure can rollover or collide with another vehicle. However, even in the case of a rollover, if the seat belt is properly functioning and the roof is properly made, the victim's chances of survival are much higher. However, if the roof crushes, because the automaker did not equip the car with adequate roll bars, side rails, and support pillars, the outcome can be tragic.
Legal Liability For Defective Auto Parts
The injuries a driver and passengers can suffer from a defective automobile can vary, but often include:
- cuts and bruises;
- brain injury;
- spinal cord injury;
- wrongful death.
According to product liability law, manufacturers are responsible for the safety and proper functioning of their products and can be held legally responsible, if a defect causes harm. Product liability lawsuits involving motor vehicles are usually based on of the following two claims: the vehicle or vehicle parts involved in the accident were defectively manufactured or designed. These claims can be brought against:
- Parts manufacturer;
- Shipping company;
- Car dealer.
Even if a car has already been recalled, if the owner suffered an injury due to the defect, he or she still has the right to file a product liability lawsuit. The amount of compensation a victim can receive depends on the number of damages suffered. Damages can be compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are intended to restore the victim's condition prior to the accident. Punitive damages are awarded in rare cases, only if the manufacturer acted in a malicious or fraudulent manner. Victims can receive compensation for:
- medical expenses;
- long-term medical care;
- lost wages;
- property damage;
- pain and suffering.
How Can O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm Help?
Although product liability law is clear enough about the responsibilities of manufacturers, proving liability in the case of a defective automobile is not a simple process. Automobile manufacturing companies will go to great links to protect their reputation and also have the financial means to hire some of the best attorneys and experts to defend them.
We work together with safety specialists, design engineers, automotive industry analysts, and other experts to determine whether the vehicle or one of its components was defective. We investigate the circumstances of the accident and use accident reconstruction techniques to defend your rights. To determine whether the manufacturer knew about the defect but failed to recall the vehicle, we also review company records and quality control measures.
O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm will assist you with every stage of your lawsuit as follows:
- evaluate case: gather all the documents and information needed in order to file your claim;
- pleading: we'll file a formal complaint explaining why the manufacturing company is being sued;
- discovery: we'll gather information to prove your case;
- pre-trial motions: we'll make sure motions requesting evidence to be excluded from the trial will be denied and we can use all the information needed to prove your case;
- settlement: when properly prepared, most cases settle prior to trial;
- trial: during the trial we'll use all our experience, skills, and resources to prove your case and to make sure that you are fully compensated for your injuries.
Documents Necessary For Your Claim
That you may increase your chances of a successful outcome, you should consider your claim immediately after the accident, to make sure you gather all the information and documents needed. You should gather and provide us with the following documents:
- copy of the accident report;
- statement of the investigating officer;
- list of witnesses we can interview or their statements;
- contact information of emergency personnel first on the scene;
- your medical records and hospital bills;
- any paperwork showing when and how you purchased the vehicle;
- any paperwork revealing previous problems with your vehicle.
The Sacramento & Elk Grove-based staff at O'Brien & Zehnder Law Firm will then be able to investigate the details of your case, establish whether there was a defective component involved, and pursue your claim.