How Does a Product Recall Impact My Car Wreck Case?

Product recalls affect a wide range of product types, from strollers and industrial equipment to food and cosmetic products. Depending on the product that is being recalled and the reason for the recall, the defective product can put the consumer at risk of being seriously injured. Although any type of defective product has the potential to cause injuries, the risk is particularly high when the product in question is a motor vehicle. Product recalls ensure that those defective, and potentially dangerous, products are taken off the market and either repaired or replaced at no cost to the consumer. If a motorist is involved in a serious accident involving a vehicle that has a product recall, liability will depend on a number of factors, including whether the manufacturer issued a recall and if the consumer was aware of the recall. A skilled car wreck lawyer will determine who is liable for the accident and assist his or her client with the claims process.

Examples of Common Vehicle Defects

Most consumers assume that the vehicle they are driving is safe, particularly when they are driving a new car off the lot for the first time. Unfortunately, even new cars have defective products that can cause serious accidents and life-threatening injuries. For example, the defective ignition switches in General Motors cars caused over 50 fatalities, and the faulty Takata airbags that were installed in several car models were responsible for at least five deaths and 64 serious injuries. Takata recalled 1.4 million older driver’s-side airbag inflators on certain vehicles that were designed between 1995 and 2000 after it was discovered that some deflators deployed too slowly or ruptured if there was an improper amount of moisture in the inflator. The following are other examples of product defects that can lead to product recalls:

  • Brake systems that malfunction
  • Defects in the vehicle’s electrical system
  • Faulty accelerators that either prevent the car from moving or cause if to accelerate too quickly
  • Fuel leaks that can cause a fire
  • Steering issues that can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle
  • Unsafe tires

Who is Responsible for Issuing Product Recalls?

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards established a set a minimum performance requirements for the parts of a vehicle that have the biggest impact on safe operation, including the brakes, tires, and lighting; as well as the features of the vehicles that protect motorists from serious injuries or fatalities, including air bags, safety belts, child restraint, energy absorbing steering columns, and motorcycle helmets. If a vehicle or a specific product related to the vehicle does not comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, or if there is a safety-related defect in the vehicle or the equipment, an auto recall may be necessary.

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to issue recalls if a vehicle does not meet the safety standards. Safety-related defects are issues that affect a motor vehicle or a specific piece of equipment that poses a significant safety risk. In addition, the defect may exist in a group of vehicles that had the same design or have equipment from the same manufacturer. The following are example of safety defects:

  • Accelerator control that breaks or becomes stuck
  • Airbags that deploy when they should not do so
  • Brake failure
  • Car ramps of jacks that collapse during use, causing serious injury to the person working on the vehicle
  • Power steering failure
  • Roofs that collapse during a rollover accident
  • Seats and/or seat backs that fail during use
  • Steering components that break suddenly, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle
  • Wheels that crack on blow-out, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle
  • Windshield wipers that fail to work properly
  • Wiring systems that malfunction, resulting in a loss of lighting or a fire

In some cases, the manufacturer of the vehicle or piece of equipment that is defective will voluntarily issue a product recall. Other times, a recall will be ordered after complaints made by customers or after an investigation by the NHTSA. If a recall has been ordered, the manufacturer must notify the consumer within a reasonable time, and by first-class mail. The letter must provide a detailed explanation of the problem and the safety risks associated with the defect. When it comes to addressing the recall and fixing the issue, the manufacturer has three options:

  • Repair the vehicle.
  • Replace the vehicle with an identical or similar one.
  • Refund the purchase price in full, minus a small amount for depreciation.

How can Drivers Check if a Used Vehicle has Recalls?

Car owners can take proactive steps to see if there are active recalls on their vehicles. That includes used cars. Consumers simply search the vehicle identification number (VIN) in the NHTSA’s data base; it will bring up any recalls and whether the necessary repairs or replacements were made. It is also highly recommended that consumers contact the manufacturer and register the vehicle. This will ensure that the new owner receives any future recall notices.  It is important to note that cars that are 10 or more years old may not qualify for free repairs, even if they are part of a safety recall.

Which Parties are Liable for a Car Accident Involving a Product Recall?

Consumers who have been injured in a car accident involving a vehicle that has been recalled may pursue a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, the distributor, the retailer of the car or the car parts, or the company responsible for the design of the defective part. If a product recall was not issued or the manufacturer failed to notify the consumer in a safe and timely fashion, they may be held liable for the property damage and injuries associated with the accident. However, if the consumer was notified about the recall, but he or she failed to take the necessary steps to have the defective part repaired or replaced, the consumer may be liable for the injuries associated with the accident. For example, if a recall notice was issued about a vehicle’s ignition switch, the consumer has a responsibility to follow up on getting the issue repaired. However, if the car owner delays scheduling a service appointment and ends up causing a multi-vehicle collision after the driver’s engine shuts off while driving on the highway, the motorist could be held partially liable, since he or she continued to drive the car despite knowing about the faulty part.

What Steps Should Drivers Take if Their Vehicle has Been Recalled?

Any kind of safety issue with a motor vehicle warrants swift action. If a consumer receives a recall letter, he or she should respond to the notice as quickly as possible. In most cases, the repairs or product replacements will be done at no charge to the customer. The letter should describe the safety issue and the safety risks it poses to consumers. It should also include information about how to schedule a time to have the issue fixed. The consumer will most likely be instructed to contact his or her local dealer to arrange for the repairs to be made. If the dealer or the manufacturer is unresponsive or uncooperative, the consumer is urged to file a complaint against the dealer or the manufacturer with the NHTSA.

Which Damages are Entitled in a Products Liability Lawsuit?

If it is determined that the manufacturer, dealer, or designer failed to issue a product recall or did not notify the customer in a timely manner, the consumer may be eligible for financial compensation if the defective part was responsible for causing an accident. Based on the severity of the accident and the resulting injuries, the injured motorist may be eligible for the following damages:

  • Medical expenses, including bills from hospitals, doctors, physical therapists, and prescription medications.
  • Lost wages if the injury prevents the victim from being able to return to work.
  • Costs associated with repairing the damage to the vehicle.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Loss of consortium.
  • Death benefits if the accident resulted in a wrongful death. This may include funeral costs, medical expenses that the deceased incurred, loss of future earnings, and loss of inheritance.

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Clients with Vehicle Recall Claims

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an accident involving a vehicle that has been recalled, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will conduct a thorough investigation to determine if and when a product recall was issued. If the appropriate party failed to notify you about the recall, we will hold them liable for your injuries and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation for your injuries. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential 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.