Car Accidents Caused by Vehicle Manufacturing Defects

deployed airbag

An often-overlooked cause of motor vehicle accidents is auto defects and equipment malfunctions. Not only do faulty car parts cause crashes, but they can also result in severe injury or death, even from minor impacts. 

“Unsafe at any speed” was famously said by Ralph Nader over 50 years ago when he was describing the Chevrolet Corvair.

While the safety of automobiles has been drastically improved since then, there are still many preventable injuries and deaths that are attributed to vehicle defects. What is really troubling is the defective vehicle and vehicle parts not being identified as the cause of bodily injury or death.

It can take an experienced Sacramento personal injury lawyer, investigator, and expert, working in unison, to identify a car defect as the cause of injury or death after a traffic accident.

In this article:

What Are NHTSA Recalls?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains a database of all recalls due to auto defects issued for motor vehicles, safety equipment, car seats, and tires. Unfortunately, not all vehicle defects are reported to the NHTSA dataset. However, it is an excellent starting place if you suspect that a vehicle defect caused a collision, injury, or death. The database should not be used as the basis to conclude that a car defect was not the cause of an injury.

Even if the defect is not reported by the NHTSA, it does not necessarily mean that an accident or injury was not caused by a faulty car or car part. If any of the following hallmarks are seen in a crash, an independent investigation needs to be completed before ruling out an auto defect:

  • Minor collision with traumatic injury or death;
  • One occupant of the vehicle suffered catastrophic injuries, but the others only sustained minor injuries;
  • Severe damage to just one area of the vehicle; or
  • Occupants secured by a seat belt were seriously injured or thrown from the vehicle in a rollover accident.
Failure of Seatbacks in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Seatbacks are one of the most common failures in vehicle safety equipment. A seatback is designed to stabilize the occupant’s torso and back when a collision occurs, even at highway speeds. If the seatbacks, including the back seats, collapse backward in a crash, this can be from a defect within the seat. This can be overlooked because first responders may move the seat to extricate the occupant. Car manufacturers often use cheaper materials like plastic for the back seats, which often fail more than front seats. Particularly disturbing, parents are told to put children in the back seat to ensure their safety. However, the combination of a defective seatback and the type of accident can prove to be a deadly combination for both adults and children placed in back seats.

Faulty Gas Tanks Causing Fires and Explosions

Another vehicle defect that is surprisingly common is preventable gasoline fires. Cars should be, and mostly are, designed with fuel systems that maintain integrity when involved in collisions. But, there are many cases of occupants that survive the initial accident but are engulfed in flames from a faulty fuel system that leaks gasoline on hot engine parts. To prevent a vehicle from catching fire, gas tanks should be positioned safely, gas lines should be protected, and safety valves that shut off gas flow when a leak is detected should be in place. Cost-cutting can be achieved by auto manufacturers by eliminating these safety devices.

Types of Tire Manufacturing Defects

Tires are another vehicle safety issue that can cause injury or death. You should regularly check and maintain tire pressure within the guidelines printed on the sidewall of the tire, as well as the weather and road conditions stated by the vehicle manufacturer. But, even the most diligent vehicle owner cannot always shield themselves from tire defects. A defective tire has the potential to result in a catastrophic accident that can be inexplicable at first look until an expert examines the tires. Older tires can and do fail as the material degrades from use and sun damage. All tires deteriorate with age, but there is hardly any manufacturer that will provide a warning in their manufacture date, which cannot be readily identified on the tire. As tires age, they can become more susceptible to tread separation. This can increase the risk of a vehicle losing control. At highway speeds, this can be a recipe for disaster.

Exacerbation of Injuries Caused by Airbag Deployment

Airbags have been another widespread defect that has been responsible for many car accident injuries and deaths. A defective airbag can fail to deploy. In other cases, they can deploy at the wrong time or with excessive force. Airbags should be designed and manufactured to inflate by an explosive charge upon a triggering event such as a moderate speed collision. Once the bag is inflated, it should fill the space by the passenger and the adjacent support structure. Once the passenger hits the bag, it is designed and manufactured to deflate. In all, it is the safety mechanism that protects occupants’ heads, neck, and back from the forces generated by the collision when used in conjunction with seatbelts. While they are a great invention and should be standard in any modern vehicle, defects can make them more dangerous than not having any airbags at all. The last thing someone wants is for an airbag to deploy when you hit a pothole or not deploy when you are in an accident at highway speeds.

Seat Belt Defects and Failures

Seatbelts have been around since 1885. In 1959, they were upgraded from a lap belt to the three-point harness (lap and shoulder belt) that is found in most modern cars. Despite their long term use and improvement, they can, and still are, designed and made in defective conditions that cause traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and death. Seat belts can be “false latch” due to a defect. This is when a seat belt appears and sounds like it latched, but it is, in fact, not properly fastened. This might not be readily apparent from the occupant of the vehicle, and the only way they find out is it comes undone in an accident. Seatbelt failures are often written up as “unsecured” in traffic accident reports but have no idea why. The locking mechanism can fail itself. This had come up recently when some manufacturers were using plastic rather than metal parts, which caused a failure in accident scenarios.

What Parents Should Know About Car Seat Recalls and Defects

Perhaps the most frightening defects are those that are present in children’s car seats. Every state requires the use of a car seat, and many parents trust that car seats are safe. To help minimize the chance for a defect in a car seat, parents must be somewhat savvy to ensure that the car seat at least meets the least possible safety standards. The car seat should be labeled to say that the seat conforms to all federal safety requirements, have instructions on the seats use on the seat, the company’s name, and the date the car seat was made. If it does not have this information, this may be a defective car seat, and it should not be bought.

Once you buy a car seat from a reputable company, it needs to appropriately installed. If you are unsure of the proper installation, a lot of police departments and fire departments will be happy to show you how to properly install the car seat. Even if the car seat owner does everything right, the seat could be defective. Car seat buckles or fasteners can have too much play in them, which can cause ejection from the seat. Or they can become too tight, which can prevent children from being extricated from the car or inhibit rescue in the event of an accident. Strap adjusters can also be faulty, which can make the straps deadly. Weak frames for the car seat can create structural instability that causes failures in accidents and cause catastrophic injuries to children.

What to Do After a Car Accident Caused by a Vehicle Defect

If a car defect is suspected, it is of paramount importance to preserve the car for inspection by an expert. Failure to keep the vehicle in question will make it difficult or impossible to find the defect. Often a person injured in an accident, where the car is deemed totaled, is under pressure to release the vehicle from their possession and sign it over to the insurance company. The pressure is from the car incurring substantial storage fees. It is imperative that if a defect is suspected that you contact a personal injury lawyer with the proper experience to ensure that the evidence is preserved before its destruction or transference.

Preserving Evidence in Car Product Liability Claims

One vital piece of evidence in newer cars is the “black box.” This is similar to the black box that you hear that crews are searching for after a plane crash. The “black box” is called an electronic control module (ECM) by industry insiders. Depending on the vehicle, the black box will have information about speed, seat belt use, acceleration, braking, and airbag activation.

Motor Vehicle Accident Risks for Older Cars

As car technology grows, the potential for failure grows with it. The automation of vehicles is becoming more widely used, as pioneered by Tesla. The potential for catastrophic failure can’t be eliminated entirely. Due to the fast-paced technology upgrades that we see in cars, a three-year-old car no longer has up to date safety devices. While newer safety devices become more complicated systems, they become more prone to faults and failures. This can give rise to unexpected and unintended defects that can result in injury or even death.

When Should You File a Personal Injury Claim for a Car Accident?

If you have been injured in a car accident as the result of a defective vehicle or vehicle part, you may be entitled to financial compensation for those injuries and losses incurred. Upon a successful vehicle products liability claim, it may be possible to recover:

  • Past and future medical expenses for the treatment of injuries related to the defective vehicle accident
  • Past and future lost wages for time missed at work to recover from injuries and reduction in earning capacity if you are unable to work because of your injury
  • Loss of consortium
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages may be awarded under specific circumstances
  • Wrongful death of a loved one

Time is of the essence in a defective vehicle accident. To recover the compensation you need, you must file a lawsuit within two years of the crash. This is by the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. If you fail to file suit before the two-year statute of limitations expires, you may lose the right to sue for resulting personal injury damages. For details on factors that affect the value of personal injury claims, watch the video below.

Should I Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident Caused by Defective Vehicle Parts?

After a motor vehicle accident caused by defective car parts and safety equipment, one of the first steps you should take after the crash is consulting with an experienced Sacramento auto products liability lawyer. A knowledgeable injury attorney who has the experience in dealing with insurance companies and challenges involved in a product liability claim can review the facts and evidence of your case. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights and responsibilities under the law and help you determine your best chances of a successful defective vehicle lawsuit. Dealing with the aftermath of a devastating traffic collision is not something you should have to do alone. Having a dedicated lawyer by your side can help ensure that you receive the fair compensation you deserve for your injuries and related losses.

Auto Products Liability Lawyers in Sacramento

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento auto products liability lawyer. A car accident caused by defective vehicle parts and equipment may lead to devastating injury or death to those involved. Like other types of personal injury cases, product liability law provides a way for people to be compensated after they have been injured or killed by negligence in the design and manufacturing of vehicle parts and equipment. To explore your legal options after a car accident you believe was caused as a result of faulty car parts and equipment, please call me at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 to receive my free, friendly case advice.

Read client reviews of our personal injury law firm at:

I am honored to be listed as a member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates.

Our Sacramento personal injury law firm has helped resolve many cases for families affected by serious or fatal motor vehicle accidents. Some of the results we have obtained for past clients are available for your review at our Verdicts and Settlements page.

Image Source: By "Pixel-Mixer" via Pixabay

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