What Should I Do if My Accident was Caused by an Auto Recall?

Problems under the car's hood

Since the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was established in 1966, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recalled more than 390 million cars and other types of vehicles, 66 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment, and 46 million tires. Despite the large number of auto recalls, auto safety defects continue to cause car accidents in Maryland and throughout the United States. Those who are injured in such accidents may be entitled to collect damages from one or several responsible parties, including the manufacturer. An experienced car wreck lawyer can assist victims involved in these accidents.

What is an Auto Recall?

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards are minimum performance requirements that apply to all vehicles and vehicle-related equipment. The standards pertain to vehicle parts such as brakes, tires, lighting, and other equipment that affects its safe operation or protects drivers and passengers from injury in the event of a car wreck.

When a vehicle or one of its parts creates an unreasonable safety risk or does not meet federal safety standards, it may be recalled. This recall may either be conducted by the car’s manufacturer or by the NHTSA following an investigation. According to the NHTSA, most recalls are initiated and remedied by the manufacturer on discovering that either:

  • A motor vehicle or piece of motor vehicle equipment does not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.
  • There is a safety-related defect in the vehicle or a piece of its equipment.

Not all defects are safety-related; some defects, such as ordinary wear of equipment and cosmetic blemishes, are not considered safety related and therefore do not form the basis of an auto recall. The NHTSA defines a safety-related defect as one that:

  • Poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.
  • May exist in a group of vehicles or items of equipment that are of the same design or manufacture.

Examples of safety-related defects include wiring system problems that cause fire, air bags that deploy under unintended conditions, steering components that break suddenly, weak fuel system components, and other critical vehicle components that may cause injury because of a malfunction. In 2019, there were a total of 966 defect and compliance recalls with an affected population of 53,096,871, according to the NHTSA.

Consumer Rights Pertaining to Auto Recalls

Car owners are encouraged to report any suspected safety defects to the NHTSA. They may either do so by calling the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline (800-424-9393) or by reporting it online at www.nhtsa.gov. Such citizen and consumer reports help the NHTSA determine if there is indeed a safety defect that warrants an auto recall. There is no established number for how many reports the NHTSA must receive before investigating an issue; however, each filed report is reviewed by agency technical experts. The NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) conducts a four-step investigation into complaints, consisting of the following measures:

  • Screening. During this phase, the agency conducts a preliminary review of consumer complaints and other information to decide whether an investigation should be initiated.
  • Petition analysis. The agency then conducts an analysis of any petitions calling for investigations or recalls.
  • Investigation. The ODI then investigates alleged safety defects by obtaining information such as crash data, complaints, and warranty claims from the manufacturer.
  • Recall management. The ODI’s Recall Management Division monitors recalls ensuring that the scope, recall completion rate, and remedy are adequate.

Consumers have several rights when it comes to auto recalls. By law, car manufacturers have a duty to ensure the safety of vehicles and vehicle parts that they put on the market. When a recall is issued, a car owner generally has the right to the following:

  • Be notified of the safety defect in writing within a reasonable amount of time.
  • Have the manufacturer repair the vehicle at no charge, replace the vehicle with an identical or similar one, or refund the purchase price minus reasonable depreciation, as long as the vehicle is no more than 15 years old.
  • Be reimbursed for certain repair costs incurred before a recall is initiated.

Who is Liable for an Auto Recall Accident?

Recall remedies available under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act are not exclusive of other legal remedies. Drivers who are injured accidents caused by a defective vehicle or vehicle part may also be eligible for compensation in a products liability lawsuit.

There are several parties who may be held liable for an auto recall accident, depending on the circumstances of the case, particularly, when the recall occurred. If the recall did not occur until after the accident, the injured party may be able to sue negligent parties such as the car’s manufacturer, retailer, or distributor for damages. However, if the recall occurred before the accident, the amount of damages the injured party is entitled to recover may be reduced if he or she failed to comply with the recall. For example, if the vehicle’s owner did not promptly attempt to repair the vehicle after receiving adequate notice of the vehicle’s defect, he or she may be considered partially responsible for the accident.

Filing a Products Liability Claim

Those who were in an accident caused by an auto recall should keep the vehicle and/or all defective car parts; they may constitute valuable evidence in a products liability case. Products liability is an area of law governing the relationship between product suppliers and consumers. In products liability cases involving automobiles, suppliers such as manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and other parties who distribute defective or unsafe automobiles or products may be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries.

A plaintiff in a products liability case must show that the product in question was defective, that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous, and that he or she was injured as a result. Generally, there are three types of defects that give rise to liability in this type of case:

  • Design defect. When a product, such as a vehicle or vehicle part, is inherently unsafe before it is even manufactured, it is said to have a design defect.
  • Manufacturing defect. A manufacturing defect does not exist inherently in the product; rather, the defect occurs during a product’s manufacture, assembly, or shipment.
  • Marketing defect. This type of defect exits when a manufacturer, seller, or distributor fails to warn consumers of certain risks associated with the product.

Once the potential defendants have been identified, a plaintiff may sue for damages. In products liability cases involving motor vehicles, there are several potential defendants, including manufacturers, parts manufacturers, car dealerships, automotive supply shops, shippers, and used car dealers.

Damages for Injured Car Accident Victims

Although recalls may serve as important supporting evidence for injured car accident victims, they do not automatically establish liability. To recover damages in a products liability case involving an auto recall, a plaintiff must still prove that the car or car part was defective and that the defect caused his or her injuries.

A common defense to this type of claim is that the car owner was also negligent by not fixing the defect in a timely manner after the recall. However, evidence of an issued recall does not, by itself, establish the notice requirement; manufacturers must prove that the plaintiff directly received adequate notice of the defective car or car part.

The statute of limitations for both personal injury and product liability claims is three years from the date it accrues. Therefore, Maryland drivers who are injured in auto recall accidents are advised to contact a qualified car wreck lawyer as soon as possible.

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims Injured in Auto Recall Accidents

If you were injured in an accident involving a recalled vehicle or auto part, contact the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our dedicated and experienced legal team can help you obtain maximum compensation for your injuries. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that your rights are always protected. For a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.