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Vehicle Recalls

A vehicle recall occurs when a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that an automobile model (or several models) or part has a safety-related defect or does not comply with federal safety standards. When a vehicle recall is issued, auto-manufacturers will alert owners of the particular model that is the subject of the recall and usually offer a free remedy (e.g., repair, refund, or repurchase) to come into compliance with federal standards. While some recalls only involve minor repairs or replacements, these issues can lead to very serious and fatal injuries. 

According to the NHTSA, more than 47.2 million vehicles were subject to recalls mandated by the NHTSA and voluntary manufacturer notices. This translates to more than one in four vehicles on U.S. roads with at least one open recall—an increasing threat to drivers and passengers traveling the roadways. The NHTSA also reports that the rise in recalls came predominately from software/electronic recalls as vehicles become more like computers than machines, a potential crisis on the horizon.

Traditionally, recalls involved defects in:

  • The body and frame;
  • Braking system;
  • Airbags;
  • Cooling and temperature control system;
  • Engine assembly;
  • Exhaust system;
  • Fuel system;
  • Passenger compartment;
  • Steering and suspension systems; or
  • Transmission and drivetrain.

Of the several federal statutes administered by the NHTSA, the Vehicle Safety Act is the most important in terms of general automotive safety. The purpose of the Act is to reduce the traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people ages six through thirty-three (traffic accidents cause nearly 41,800 fatalities per year). In 1974, the Safety Amendments were enacted to obligate manufacturers to remedy at no cost to the consumer any safety-related defect or noncompliance with any federal motor vehicle safety standards (motor vehicle recall). Under the Act, defect included any defect in performance, construction, component, or material in the vehicle or its equipment. The Act also included safety-related to mean if it presents an “unreasonable risk of accidents.”

Operating a vehicle that is subject to a recall may be a huge inconvenience to some since it involves coordinating a time and place to take the vehicle in, but to others, it may have significant legal implications if you are injured in an accident as a result of the recalled defect. For example, this could mean that a driver in an automobile accident with another driver may be able to impute the vehicle manufacturer if it is determined that the injuries suffered were caused, or enhanced, by the recalled defect in the vehicle. In such a situation, you may have a strong personal injury claim against the vehicle manufacturer under a theory of products liability. In north carolina, common product liability claims include actions brought for or on account of personal injuries or death resulting from defective manufacturing, inadequate warning, or defective design.

A manufacturer owes a duty to its purchasers to design and build a vehicle which is reasonably safe in order to minimize its injury-producing effects. Under another negligent theory called “enhanced injury,” recovery may be allowed when defects in a vehicle resulting from some negligence of the manufacturer in the vehicle’s design or construction, enhance or increase the plaintiff’s injuries in an accident, although the defect did not cause the accident. In many cases, this concept is referred to as the vehicle’s “crashworthiness”—the ability of a vehicle to prevent injuries to the occupants in the event of a collision. During a vehicular collision, the occupants are subject to forces and impact that can result in injury or death. Crashworthiness involves the secondary collision that results from the driver and passengers colliding against the interior of the vehicle. Effective crashworthiness will distribute these injurious forces and minimize the occupant’s injuries by perhaps preventing ejection from the vehicle, re-distributing impact to other less vulnerable parts of the body, or reducing the risk of fire.

Although the vehicle recall itself does not make the manufacturer automatically liable for your injuries, evidence of the recall itself may be important in determining the manufacturer’s liability in a personal injury lawsuit. These types of cases can be complicated and will oftentimes require expert testimony from specialists in the automotive industry. Having an experienced personal injury attorney can not only help to provide a network of experts to testify, but also successfully guide you through the complex legalities of these claims against some of the largest car manufacturing companies.

If you are aware of a recall involving your vehicle and did not take it in for service prior to getting into an automobile accident caused by that defect, this may or may not affect your claim. Contact the respected personal injury attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC to review your case and determine the potential impact on your claim. The initial consultation is free of charge.

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