Unsafe Vehicle Design Can Expose the Manufacturer to Liability

In the majority of motor vehicle accident lawsuits, injury victims initially focus their attention on obvious defendants — other negligent drivers who contributed to the accident, or perhaps the government agency that failed to maintain the roadway in a reasonably safe condition.  In reality, however, the vehicle manufacturer may be a potentially liable defendant worth bringing an action against, depending on the circumstances.

All product manufacturers — in Arizona and elsewhere — have a duty to ensure that their products are not defective and are reasonably safe for their foreseeable uses.  Failure to adhere to this duty could expose the manufacturer to significant liability.  This could prove especially useful in cases where the other defendants (i.e., the drivers) are uninsured or underinsured and therefore not equipped to cover your damages in full.

There are a number of different product liability claims — defective manufacture, defective design, failure to warn, and breach of warranty — but for now, let’s focus on defective design in the motor vehicle accident context.

Defective Design Liability

Arizona implements strict product liability, which is a boon for injured plaintiffs involved in litigation with a vehicle manufacturer.  Stated simply, the plaintiff need only prove that the vehicle is defective in some way, and that the defect substantially contributed to the injuries they suffered in the accident.  It is not necessary for the plaintiff to prove the manufacturer’s negligence.

Of course, this does not mean that litigation is easy.  Arguably, the implementation of strict liability simply puts the injury victims and manufacturers on a more equal footing, given the substantial advantages that manufacturers enjoy from a resources perspective.

In any case, if you’re looking to bring a claim against the vehicle manufacturer for defective design in Arizona, you’ll have to prove the following elements:

  1. Some element of the vehicle was defective; and
  2. The defective condition proximately caused you injuries.

Success will ultimately turn on your ability to prove that the product was actually defective in terms of its design.  This can be a significant challenge, particularly if the defendant is uncooperative or hostile and is willing to throw resources at the problem in an effort to bully you into submission.

Arizona courts will consider a product defective in terms of its design if the product poses an unreasonable danger to foreseeable users.  There are two tests for determining whether a product poses an “unreasonable” danger to its users: the risk-benefit test and the consumer expectation test.

Risk-Benefit Test

The risk-benefit test is fairly straightforward on the surface.  In Arizona, the courts will deem a product defective if the harmful consequences of its design outweigh the benefits of its design.  Courts will weigh a number of different factors, including the existence of a reasonable alternative design, the actual danger of the design, and many others.

Consumer Expectation Test

The consumer expectation test, by contrast, is about “foreseeability.”  If a product is not as safe to use in a foreseeable manner (i.e., driving a car on a highway) as the ordinary consumer would expect, then it will be deemed defective.

Product Misuse as a Defense

Manufacturers have a number of defenses they can assert to circumvent liability, including the product misuse defense.  Naturally, manufacturers are not absolute guarantors of safety for every conceivable use of their product — for example, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer cannot be held liable if a consumer attempts to use the vacuum to clean up toxic chemical waste and complains that it leaked out and caused them to suffer injuries.

Similarly, there are plenty of ways in which a driver may misuse a vehicle in a non-foreseeable manner.  For example, if you attach a pulley to your truck tires, and run the engine to turn the wheels and lift an object out of a pit, then the manufacturer cannot be held liable for injuries stemming from some product failure that subsequently occurs (i.e., the breaks fail and the truck collides with you and your friends).

Speak to an Experienced Phoenix Accident Attorney for Legal Assistance

Though product defect claims in Arizona are subject to strict liability principles, they are among the most difficult claims to “win,” as manufacturers have substantial resources, and tend to be somewhat aggressive in fighting lawsuits so as to discourage others from bringing similar lawsuits.

Here at Hirsch & Lyon, our attorneys are more than capable of taking on manufacturers and securing maximum compensation for our injured clients.  We have decades of experience representing the injured in a range of motor vehicle accident lawsuits, and as such, we understand the contours of product defect litigation and the strategies that manufacturers employ to avoid liability.

Unlike many other firms, we focus solely on motor vehicle accident claims.  This focus ensures that we are well-equipped to handle all the complex (and unexpected!) issues that arise in such litigation.  Our results speak volumes about our approach — we have secured over $100 million in damages (verdicts and settlements) on behalf of our injured clients.

Call (602) 786-5336 to connect to an experienced Phoenix accident attorney today for a free and confidential consultation.