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Can You Sue a Car Manufacturer for an Accident?

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Car Accidents |

Texas cities such as Houston and San Antonio are no different than those in other urban areas throughout the United States. Traffic can be reduced to a crawl during rush hour, inspiring road rage, and certain drivers are likely to speed in lighter conditions, putting others in danger. Getting behind the wheel is a risk. Collisions occur at all times of the day and night, leaving people to contact police, medical assistance, and accident injury lawyers.
More often than not, the fault lies with human error. People may be texting while driving or be otherwise distracted. Occasionally, non-human factors are to blame. A dog or cat darts into the street. A stop sign is concealed by tree branches, or missing. Traffic signals occasionally malfunction. One other causative factor is gaining greater notice these days with the advent of self-driving technology. People are wondering whether they can sue automobile manufacturers for vehicular malfunctions.

Can Drivers in Houston and San Antonio Hold Manufacturers Accountable for Vehicle Defects?

In short, the answer is yes, and this has been the case for decades. There is even a classification for the laws pertaining to such litigation. Long before self-driving technology became a thing, car manufacturers had to cope with the consequences of selling vehicles with unnoticed defects.
Massive recalls were issued for various makes and models, but usually not before accidents, property damage, injuries, and even casualties began to mount. Consequently, product liability laws were drafted.

What Are the Three Types of Defects for Which Drivers Can Seek Damages?

1. Design Defects

Inherent flaws in the design of vehicles can inevitably lead to accidents. Among the examples are narrow wheelbase designs that made some models top-heavy, causing them to roll over during sharp turns, even at what would normally be considered a safe speed.

2. Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing methods can also produce unacceptable risks to driver safety. Self-driving technology appears especially vulnerable to such risks at the moment, but other issues, including incorrectly assembled brake systems, faulty electronics, and defective airbags have all been recognized as contributing factors to injury in accidents.

3. Marketing Defects

When a manufacturer advertises the safety of a particular feature to the point that a driver feels their attention or intervention is unnecessary, such as with lane-detection technology, they can be held accountable for resulting damages to both property and person.

What Must Accident Injury Lawyers Do to Establish That a Vehicular Defect Contributed to a Collision?

Three conditions must be met to establish that a vehicular defect contributed, either partially or in full, to a plaintiff’s injuries and/or the damage to their vehicle or other personal property:
  1. The part or system in question presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the driver, passenger, or other parties involved.
  2. It was technologically and economically feasible to manufacture a safer alternative to the part or system in question.
  3. The defective part or system in fact contributed to the injuries or damages claimed.

Can Manufacturers Be Held Responsible When Their Vehicle’s Defect Hasn’t Violated Any Laws?

Yes. While it is certainly helpful to a case, it isn’t always necessary for a vehicular defect to be in violation of any state or federal law in order for the manufacturer to be found liable. In fact, such legislation is usually inspired by the damages caused by previously undetected, and therefore unimagined, defects.

What Is Crashworthiness?

While laws against specific design and manufacturing flaws aren’t necessarily on the books, the justice system long ago recognized that automobile manufacturers must be held to a legally reasonable standard of safety for their products.

“Crashworthiness” is the term referring to that standard, and, for very good reason, it is fluid in nature. Every emerging technology, from seatbelts to airbags to self-driving computers, is compelled to meet a legal threshold of safety.

The Four Conditions That Define Crashworthiness

Defective parts and systems don’t always contribute directly to accidents. Sometimes their flaws exacerbate rather than curtail property damage and injury. In order to limit damage to property, as well as personal harm to drivers and passengers, established product liability law demands that vehicles meet specific levels of crashworthiness in four areas:

  1. The passenger cabin will retain its shape during and after a collision.
  2. The force of impact in a collision will be directed away from the driver and passengers.
  3. Fuel tanks and lines will be insulated against fire.
  4. Seatbelts, airbags, windows, and doors must all prevent occupants from moving during impact.

Instances Where Manufacturers Cannot Be Held Responsible for Defects or Lack of Crashworthiness

Sadly for victims of such accidents, some collisions are so forceful that a legally reasonable level of crashworthiness would not be able to protect the occupants. Similarly, such a catastrophic tragedy would render a defective part or system’s influence on the crash negligible. In those cases, manufacturers cannot be considered at fault in any way.

What Happens in Texas When a Manufacturer Defect Is Not the Only Contributive Factor in an Accident?

More often than you might expect, it is determined that more than one factor contributed to a collision. One driver might ignore a stop sign, causing them to crash into another who was speeding and otherwise might have avoided the accident. Then there are the aforementioned non-human factors, which include vehicle defects and substandard crashworthiness. Poor vehicle design or manufacturing can cause injuries and property damage, but they can also aggravate or increase the severity of one or both.

In Texas, a legal standard known as “comparative fault” is applied in such cases. Insurance companies can negotiate, or the courts will determine, the percentage of fault each contributing factor bears. When a car manufacturer is found fully responsible for injuries and damages, they must pay the full amount awarded to victims. If, for example, they are adjudged to have only caused ten percent of injuries and damages, that is the percentage of the final settlement they are obligated to satisfy.

Are Manufacturers Fully Responsible for Self-Driving Accidents?

Electric vehicles pose the same threat to internal combustion engine-driven vehicles that their fossil-fuel ancestors did to the horse-drawn carriage. In other words, they will take over American roads in the foreseeable future: and they can be a serious fire hazard in an accident. More concerning than their power source, however, is the self-driving technology many feature. News outlets have reported many accidents involving self-driven vehicles, and one California man has been arrested for being a literal backseat driver in his automated vehicle.

Despite that, manufacturers cannot be held fully responsible for self-driving accidents. Not yet, at least. Humans are still required to be legally licensed and responsible for the operation of their vehicles, whether they come with a self-driving option or not. Until some future generation of computer programmers and automotive engineers prove that an artificially intelligent operating system can intuitively anticipate and avoid collisions more effectively than a person, drivers will remain accountable for their car or truck’s actions.

Regardless of whether human error or manufacturer’s defects are responsible for a collision, it pays to be represented by a firm of top accident injury lawyers who understand product liability law, comparative fault, and every other facet of Texas personal injury law. In San Antonio or Houston, call the Gamez Law Firm now for a free consultation.

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