Products Liability in the US – Vehicles
HELPING GERMAN VEHICLE MANUFACTURERS NAVIGATE THROUGH UNITED STATES PRODUCT LIABILITY LAW
Germany exports many different types of cars and other vehicles to the United States every year. German manufacturers in general take special care to know both the industry standards and the governmental standards in order to comply with them. Unfortunately, sometimes this is not easily achieved or defects manifest themselves in the vehicle and then the manufacturer could face a products liability claim in the US. At a time like this the German manufacturer may need a law firm in the United States that is knowledgeable and experienced in products liability law. UTF can help, but more importantly there are things German manufacturers need to know about the United States Product Liability laws as they can differ substantially from German law.
When talking about motor vehicles there are usually two types of issues that give rise to a product liability claim: 1) Defectively manufactured vehicles or vehicle parts and 2) Vehicles with an unreasonably dangerous design. In the first instance, this type of claim means that the vehicle or the vehicle part was improperly manufactured in some way. This could have occurred at the location where the vehicle is made or the vehicle part is made or it could have occurred during the shipping process of the vehicle or vehicle part.
The second type of claim would involve vehicles or vehicle parts that have an unreasonably dangerous design, which results in injury or some other kind of damage to the consumer. This dangerous design would exist even when the vehicle is properly manufactured. In many cases these designs can be on the market for many years before the design is discovered to be dangerous. Once the defect is known by the manufacturer, the manufacturer will send out recall notices to consumers to correct the manifested dangerous design in the vehicle or vehicle part.
In the United States there are three main legal theories that are used to adjudicate these claims:
1. Breach of Warranty: this can be either an Express Warranty or Implied Warranty. Breach of Express Warranty means the vehicle or vehicle part came with some sort of written warranty or guarantee, so the defect may be a breach of this warranty. The Breach of Implied Warranty is usually imposed by minimum state standards, so they are implied regardless of the written warranty that came with the vehicle or vehicle part. The defect would be a breach of these implied warranties.
2. Strict Products Liability: This has been adopted by many states to help consumers. Under this theory it relieves the consumer of having to show that the manufacturer or the supplier of the defective vehicle or vehicle part was not sufficiently prudent in creating or distributing the vehicle or vehicle part. All the consumer has to do is to show that the vehicle or vehicle part is defective in some way and because of this defect the consumer was injured or suffered damages.
3. Negligence: This means that the manufacturer or a party within the manufacturer’s line of manufacture did not act with reasonable care to assure the safety of the design and manufacture of the vehicle or the vehicle part. The issue would then revolve around “reasonable care,” which would depend upon the nature and risk of the harm that could be caused by the vehicle or the vehicle part. This is why the manufacturing standards are strict because of the potential bodily harm that can come from a vehicle or vehicle part should it be defective. Under this theory the consumer would have to prove that the manufacturer breached this duty and that the cause of the damages incurred by the consumer was a direct causation of the defective vehicle or vehicle part.
When presented with a products liability claim in the US involving vehicles or vehicles parts there are several defenses that UTF attorneys use to mitigate the damages. Some of these defenses can include contributory negligence, lack of proximate cause of injury and intervening/superseding cause.
It is important that the US attorney is knowledgeable about these defenses because some aspects of the United States Products Liability Law are different from the law in Germany when addressing the damages from these claims. For example, in the United States a consumer may be awarded punitive damages as a way to “punish” the manufacturer and deter the manufacturer and others from doing the same things in the future. Under the laws of Germany this does not exist. To avoid punitive damages, an attorney must show that there was no malice, evil or particularly reckless conduct on the manufacturer’s part.
Other damages available to consumers in the United States are: compensatory damages, including medical costs and property damage, and non-economic damages, such as emotional trauma and pain and suffering. The non-economic damages awarded in the United States tend to be notably higher than in Germany. This is why it is important to retain a firm that is knowledge about US products liability laws and can help ensure German manufacturers are in compliance with the products liability standards and laws in the United States.
For further information or in depth details, please do not hesitate to contact us through our contact form or give us a call at (407)-245-8352.
Please note UTF does not represent you and cannot take any action on your behalf unless and until you enter into a formal written Legal Representation Agreement.