The following is a list of some common defects that have been litigated with some regularity that you may refer to when analyzing your cases for the potential of a products liability claim. Keep in mind that there are many other defects that are not so commonly the subject of litigation, or perhaps that have not been litigated at all yet, but are nonetheless defects that may warrant filing a products liability action.
In a vehicle rolls over on the road without the help of road conditions such as potholes, debris, edge drop offs, etc., the vehicle may have a stability defect. Rollovers occur most frequently in SUVs due to their high center of gravity and narrow track width. Instability will almost always be a design defect claim.
2. Defective Tires
Defects in tires can be manufacturing defects, such as incorporation of foreign material into the tread during manufacturing, design defects, such as tread designs that are more likely than others to “unzip” and separate from the tire walls, and warning defects, such as the failure to specify to correct amount of tire pressure. Another possible warning defect that has not gained much “traction” yet is the failure to specify expiration dates to prevent the sale of aged tires that have a much greater likelihood of failing. Anytime something happens in a tire that causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle, a tire defect claim should be considered.
3. Roof Crush
A “roof crush” claim is actually a claim that the vehicle is defective due to a lack of structural crashworthiness. Anytime the side pillars of a vehicle collapse or deform enough to allow the roof to be pushed several inches into the passenger compartment or to be pushed sideways, leaving the passenger exposed, you should consider whether a roof crush claim would be appropriate. While there is no general rule about how many times a vehicle should be able to roll over and maintain the integrity of the roof structure, certainly, the greater the number of times the vehicle rolls over, the more difficult it is to prove a structural crashworthiness defect. Roof Crush claims can be either design defects, such as where the specified pillar strength is inadequate to support the weight of the vehicle in a rollover, or a manufacturing defect, such as where the roof structure and was not welded in as many spots or in the spots specified, or the welding material was inferior.
4. Seat Failure
Anytime your accident involves a seat that has either dislodged from its position or collapsed forward or backward, you should investigate the possibility of a defective seat claim. A seat back failure scenario involves a seat the collapses backward during an accident and either injures the passenger immediately behind the seat, or allows the occupant of the collapsed seat to slide backward and be ejected out the rear window or hatch. Again, a seat failure case can involve a design defect, such as where the seat is not designed with sufficient strength to withstand foreseeable forces, or a manufacturing defect, such as where inferior bolds are used to secure the seat in place.
5. Defective Child Safety Seats
The child safety seat should be thoroughly examined and investigated in any accident in which a child properly restrained in a child seat is injured in an accident. In addition to potential design and manufacturing defects, car seat manufacturers frequently fail to provide adequate instructions on the proper installation of child seats, resulting in seats that fail. An astounding number of child safety seats are improperly installed or are in service despite having been recalled.
6. Defective Seat Belts
There are a myriad of ways seat belts can fail and result in unnecessary injuries. These defects may manifest themselves in excessive internal injuries caused by “jack knifing over a lap only belt, strangulation by the seat belt, head or neck injuries resulting from striking the roof of the car while wearing a lap and shoulder belt, injuries resulting from “submarining” out from under the belt, etc.
Some seat belt defects include “unlatching” or “partial latching” defects. An unlatching defect can occur when the latch becomes unlatched as a result of the inertia of the crash. Unlatching can also occur as a result of “inadvertent” unlatching, such as where the occupant in an accident sequence comes into contact with the seat belt mechanism and unlatches it. The Federal Motor Vehicle Standards require manufacturers to design seat belts to “minimize the potential for accident release.” Some seat belts installed, for example, in certain Toyotas, Nissans, Mitsubishis and Mazdas, have a buckle with a “third position” which is neither fully latched or unlatched, but creates the impression it is latched.
Seat belts can also be defective due to webbing that stretches or tears, allowing excessive slack in the belt. A seat belt can be defective as a result of “spooling”, where the belt “spools out” allowing slack in the belt during an accident. Excess slack in the seat belt can also result from incorrect geometry, mounting seat belts on doors that can open or deform during an accident thereby allowing the passenger to move excessively during an accident. A seat belt system may be defective if it does not include a pretensioner, a device that is triggered to automatically remove any slack in the belt immediately upon impact or after a sudden change in directional forces. Pretensioners are very commonly used in vehicles in Europe but are only slowing being integrated into U.S. vehicles.
7. Airbag Defects
Airbags can cause injuries in a number of ways. Airbags can be overly aggressive, deploying with greater than necessary force that causes greater injury than would have occurred without an airbag. Aggressivity is typically a design defect. Airbags can also have either design or manufacturing defects that cause them to inadvertently deploy, to deploy late or fail to deploy under conditions in which they should. Airbags can also be defectively designed with a deployment threshold (the speed at which the vehicle is moving when the airbag deploys) that is so low it creates a risk of greater harm from the deployment of the airbag itself than would be expected from an impact at that speed. Government statistics show that accidents at speeds less than 12 to 15 miles per hour rarely result in life threatening injuries. Due to the possibility of life threatening injuries being caused by airbag deployment, especially to children, short-statured women and occupants relatively close to the airbag when it deploys, the airbag should not be designed to deploy below the speed at which the impact of the accident is likely to result in life threatening injuries.
8. Door, Window and Glass Defects
While windshields are typically made of laminated glass that is designed to hold together and prevent occupants from going through the windshield during an accident, side and rear windows are typically made of less expensive tempered glass that is designed to shatter into small pebbles upon impact. Consequently, passengers are much more frequently ejected through the side and rear window openings when the use of laminated glass would have prevented their ejection.
Additionally, passengers are more likely to be ejected from vehicles with rear lift gates due to the rate of failure of lift gates and latches during an accident. Door hinges and latches, especially the sliding doors on vans, are also susceptible to breaking and deforming during an accident, allowing the doors to open and creating a portal for ejection of occupants. Additionally, opening or deformation of doors during an accident can make door mounted seatbelts completely ineffective in the event of an accident.
9. Fuel System Defects
Any time an accident results in a fire, it is worthwhile to investigate the cause of the fire to determine whether it resulted from a fuel system defect. A very common design defect in fuel systems is placement of the fuel tank in locations vulnerable to puncture in an accident. The safest place for a fuel tank is inside the frame so that the frame can act as an additional layer of protection for the fuel tank. Fuel tanks can also be designed and/or manufactured so that the filler pipe that runs from gas cap to the fuel tank is improperly connected or insufficiently flexible to remain attached upon impact, causing fuel to get outside the fuel system. Fires can also be caused by the improper placement of other flammable and combustible materials in vulnerable positions which might allow them to come in contact with sparks or super heated surfaces in the engine compartment.
If the occupants in a vehicle survived the crash with only minor or non-life threatening injuries in the initial impact only to be severely injured or killed by a subsequent fire, you may have a good fuel system defect case.