Safety recalls are a routine part of the automotive world. Harley-Davidson recently had to recall a large number of motorcycles to address concerns that owners may not be properly maintaining their antilock braking systems, creating a risk of dangerous failure. Vehicles with the now-notorious Takata airbag system have been recalled in vast numbers to address a design flaw that has been deemed responsible for at least 15 deaths in the United States. Owners of recalled vehicles should be mindful of how such recalls can affect their ability to sue a manufacturer.
Is the manufacturer liable for injuries caused by its defective products?
Nevada’s products liability laws give consumers robust protection against defective products by making manufacturers and marketers responsible for compensating anyone injured while using them. In a nutshell, a manufacturer of a product can be liable for injuries provided that the product was actually defective at the time it left the manufacturer’s factory and the defect injured the plaintiff while the plaintiff was using it in a foreseeable way. Products liability laws are a major reason manufacturers go to the expense of issuing recalls.
Consider the Harley-Davidson brakes recall. The issue with the motorcycles’ breaks wasn’t necessarily that they were inherently defective, but rather that owners weren’t following the instructions in the owner’s manual to regularly flush and replace brake fluid. An owner who failed to follow the recommended maintenance routine could end up in an accident due to a failure in the antilock system.
The fact that the owner hadn’t followed the owner’s manual to the letter might help Harley-Davidson in court. But a jury could just as likely conclude that owners not studying their manuals is a foreseeable problem. Sure, an owner might glance through the book once or twice, but it’s hardly realistic to assume that every owner will follow recommended maintenance procedures to the letter. In fact, the opposite situation, where the owner doesn’t attend to regular maintenance at all, is probably common.
Recalls and litigation
In the context of personal injury litigation, the fact that a product was recalled to address the specific fault that caused the plaintiff’s injury can be a factor in determining liability. The recall is effectively an admission by the manufacturer that there’s a problem. But a recall doesn’t mean that the plaintiff automatically prevails. The defense can still raise a number of stout arguments, including:
- Did the plaintiff know about the recall and ignore it?
- Did anyone else work on the vehicle, potentially creating the specific problem that caused the plaintiff’s injury?
- Did the issue that triggered the recall really cause the injury, or was there another cause? For example, did the motorcycle’s antilock braking system fail to work and cause the crash, or was the road slippery with spilled oil, making it unsafe even with fully working brakes?
Issues like these will invariably complicate a products liability lawsuit against an auto manufacturer. Someone who is injured needs an experienced products liability attorney to help them put together the best possible case. For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area. Call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or send us a request on our contact page.