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Who’s liable when a malfunctioning car causes a car accident.

Most of us have had some sort of car trouble from time to time. Generally, it’s just an annoyance—your car won’t start or you have a tire go flat. But it can become dangerous, even deadly, when a car malfunctions out in traffic.

Below, we’ll discuss what the law says about accidents that result due to problems related to the actual car. But don’t forget, while each car accident case is different, they always follow the same underlying legal principles. You can read up on those at our Comprehensive Guide to Car Accident Law page now.


Questions Answered in this Section:

  • What is a products liability claim, and how does it relate to a car accident?
  • What if my mechanic made a mistake, and that led to my car accident?
  • What if I’ve done some work on my own car? Can that affect my car accident case?

Scenario #1: A Manufacturing Error

Cars are in many ways vastly safer today than a generation ago. Air bags, “crumple zones,” and improved technology have saved many lives. But manufacturers of these cars are still in the business to make money, and sometimes the desire of profit supersedes the duty to keep us safe.

When products cause pain, then victims have a potential “products liability” claim. There are two main areas in which victims can hold a manufacturer liable for injuries or death:

  • Design flaws: If it can be shown that the car or part manufacturer created a faulty product, they may be financially responsible for your losses. Recent examples of this include the ignition switches in the Chevrolet Cobalt. Because an engineer failed to adequately design and test the switches, they could cause the car to shut down in the street or even catch fire.
  • Production errors: Even if a car is designed perfectly, negligence can still occur in the production process. We’ve seen cases where cost-saving shortcuts lead to cars exploding or rolling over.

If such a defect caused a malfunction, and that malfunction causes an accident, the victim of the accident may be able to file a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the car.

Rights of Passengers How the law addresses injuries of passengers...Read More >

Scenario #2: A Repair Shop’s Error

When we take cars to professionals to get repairs, we’re trusting in their expertise to get us safely back out on the road. We want them to not only give us a fair price, but competently perform their jobs. This is the case with everything, but especially with critical safety features like brakes and tires. When they fail to repair our cars correctly — or even cause worse problems — and injuries result, then the repair shop can be held liable.

While many “shade tree” mechanics don’t have the money or assets to even bother filing a lawsuit against them, major repair outfits—like Pep Boys and dealer repair shops—have insurance in place for just such contingencies. They know that they can be held financially responsible for mistakes made by employees.

Scenario #3: Owner Error

Plenty of people work on their own cars. We admire folks who save time and money by doing their own repairs and maintenance, so long as they can do so safely. We’ve had plenty of cases over the years where cars lost brakes on the road and crashed into our clients’ cars, and we later found out that the driver had been his own “mechanic.”

What does the law say about this? Well, once you take it upon yourself to make repairs to your car, you better do it right. Do-it-yourself mechanics must take all reasonable precautions to only put safe autos on the road.

Can the driver of the malfunctioning vehicle be held liable?

When a malfunction in a vehicle leads to an accident, one question a lot of people have is whether or not the driver of the vehicle can still be held responsible. The answer to that question is, it depends. In many cases, a malfunction is going to absolve the driver of any liability. However, if the driver had reason to believe that there was something wrong with his vehicle, and that it could possibly lead to an accident, yet did nothing about it — lets say he waited six months without having the problem seen to — then he could potentially be held liable for the damage he causes.

Why can he be held liable? We have a duty to only take safe cars out on the road. Why? Because driving is not a right, and when we exercise the privilege, we owe a duty to our fellow drivers to only drive safe cars. The other driver may not be completely at fault, and may even feel terrible about your accident, but it’s not YOUR fault.

These cases, as you can tell, are complex and multilayered. You need an attorney with experience in products liability cases, as well as traditional car accident law experience. At Grossman Law Offices, we don’t just take the easy way out of cases and only take the initial insurance money from the other driver, but investigate every possible aspect of our clients’ cases.

If you’ve been hurt or lost a loved one, call us at (855) 326-0000 now.


Related Articles for Further Reading:

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