Modern cars are enormously sophisticated machines, but they still can have major mechanical problems. One curious issue that is sometimes blamed for causing accidents is unintended acceleration, in which a car lurches forward seemingly without the driver deliberately touching the gas pedal. Thanks to modern diagnostics systems it’s possible to analyze the root cause of acceleration after an accident. People injured in accidents involving unintended acceleration may have the option of suing the car manufacturer.
Potential causes of unintended acceleration
The controversy surrounding the Toyota Prius is the most famous example of unintended acceleration. About ten years ago Toyota responded to numerous claims that its Prius models were suddenly accelerating by arguing that the issue was being caused by slipping floor mats. But Toyota later admitted that they’d also discovered that some of its accelerator pedals were prone to getting stuck in a partially depressed position. Toyota issued a recall for certain car models and paid $1.2 billion to avoid criminal prosecution for its efforts to conceal the real cause of the problem.
Sticky accelerators and badly fitted floor mats are not the only potential causes of unintended acceleration. The complexity of modern car systems exposes them to potential electronic faults that could cause the problem as well. Researchers have identified problems that can arise due to CPU failures caused by voltage spikes. Faulty cruise control systems can also be responsible.
Nevada’s products liability law and unintended acceleration
The chief aim of products liability law is to encourage manufacturers and marketers of consumer goods to make their products safe. It does this by giving injured plaintiffs an advantage in the courtroom, by placing the legal burden upon the manufacturer to show that it should not be held liable. This is called strict products liability, which in Nevada requires the plaintiff to show that each of the following things is true (Nev. J.I. 7.02):
- The defendant was the manufacturer or marketer of the product. In addition to the auto manufacturer, the plaintiff might also sue the dealer and other parties that could have had a role in introducing the defect that caused the unintended acceleration.
- The product was defective. Proving defects in a car that was totaled during an accident may require expert analysis, especially in extreme cases where the car’s “black box” memory was destroyed.
- The product’s defect existed when it left the defendant’s possession. A third-party modification to the car may relieve the manufacturer of responsibility under a strict products liability theory. For example, if a dealer’s mechanic makes adjustments to an accelerator system the fault may lie with the dealer, though the auto manufacturer may have responsibility under other theories, including negligence.
- The plaintiff used the product in a way that was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant. Products liability cases often involve novel uses of ordinary objects. Even a novel use can be “foreseeable” within the meaning of this element, but such cases require careful argumentation.
- The defect caused the plaintiff’s damages. Causation can often be a focus in litigation. For example, if before the accident the unintended acceleration had stopped, but the driver hadn’t hit the brakes, the driver’s negligence may be an intervening factor.
As the brief comments above show, establishing a case for strict products liability can be complicated even despite the law’s aim of helping injured plaintiffs recover compensation. For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has served clients in the Las Vegas area in personal injury cases. If you have been injured in an unintended acceleration accident, please reach out to us today for a free attorney consultation. Call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.