Although many traffic accidents are caused by driver negligence, some accidents are caused by defects in the vehicle itself. When this happens, an injured victim may have as many as three legal bases upon which to file a lawsuit – strict product liability, negligence and breach of warranty. Choosing which theory to rely on requires a detailed understanding both of the facts of the case and the nuances of personal injury and product liability law in the state where the accident occurred.
Types of Defects
There are hundreds of potential defects that might be responsible for a vehicle accident. Some of the most common are:
- Defective fuel line or fuel tank, resulting in a fire or explosion
- Defective tires, resulting in a blowout and loss of control of the vehicle
- Defective seat belts or air bags, turning a minor accident into a tragedy
- Defective brakes, resulting in a collision
- Defective steering column, resulting in loss of control of the vehicle
Strict Product Liability
In a strict product liability claim, you can sue any party in the chain of distribution of the vehicle, including the manufacturer and the dealer. You do not have to prove that the defendant was negligent (careless). Instead, you must prove that the vehicle was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and that the defect caused your injury. Three types of defects are commonly alleged in product liability cases:
- Design defects
- Manufacturing defects
- Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding non-obvious dangers
In a negligence case, you must prove that the defendant was negligent by inappropriately acting or failing to act, and that the defendant’s negligence caused your damages. Negligence lawsuits can be more difficult to win than strict product liability lawsuits because (i) you can only sue the party you claim was negligent (instead of any party in the chain of distribution), and (ii) you must prove how the negligence occurred. You might claim, for example, that the manufacturer used an inferior material to manufacture the vehicle’s brake pads.
Two of the most common defenses to a negligence claim are expiration of the statute of limitations and comparative negligence. In a comparative negligence defense, the defendant alleges that you were partly to blame for the accident. In South Carolina, if you were less than 51 percent at fault, your recovery is reduced by your degree of fault; however, if your degree of fault was 51 percent or higher, you will recover nothing, according to product liability lawyer Dan Pruitt.
Breach of Warranty
The third theory of liability that can be used in a defective vehicle accident case is breach of warranty. To win, you have to show that the merchant offered an express or implied warranty, that he breached that warranty, and that the breach resulted in the accident. An express warranty is typically made in writing, but in some cases can be delivered verbally. An implied warranty is a warranty that applies automatically regardless of whether or not the merchant actually issued any such warranty. An example of an implied warranty is the warranty of merchantability, which in the case of an automobile, for example, adds up to a warranty that the car is roadworthy. If you can prove that a warranty was breached, you can recover damages for personal injury or wrongful death arising from that breach.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations imposes a deadline on your ability to file a lawsuit. In South Carolina the deadline is three years after the date of the injury or, if the victim died as a result of the accident, three years after the victim’s date of death.
Visit this page for more information about South Carolina defective vehicle accident attorney Dan Pruitt.