A DeKalb woman sued General Motors recently for injuries she suffered last spring when the airbag in her Chevrolet Venture minivan failed to deploy during an accident. She claims that design and manufacturing defects in the vehicle’s safety restraint violated the company’s duty to ensure that its vehicles are crashworthy — in other words, designed to protect the occupants in the event of a crash.
When an automobile defect leads to injury or death, the manufacturer or dealer of the vehicle may be liable for damages. Particularly in crashworthiness cases, the cause of an accident is generally irrelevant because vehicles must be designed to keep occupants reasonably safe during any reasonably foreseeable use of the vehicle — and the unfortunate truth is that any given vehicle may potentially be involved in an accident at some point.
Unlike in ordinary personal injury cases, liability in motor vehicle defect cases does not require a plaintiff to prove that the manufacturer was negligent or careless. Instead, an injured plaintiff can establish liability by showing that the following three things are true:
- The vehicle or a part of the vehicle had an unreasonably dangerous defect.
- The unreasonably dangerous defect caused a foreseeable injury while the vehicle was being used in the way it was intended to be used.
- The vehicle had not been substantially changed from the condition it was in when originally purchased.
It is important to keep in mind that a dangerous defect may originate at the design stage of a vehicle, or it may occur because of an error or oversight during the manufacturing and assembly process. Defects can also come into existence during shipment or delivery of the vehicle, and may even be the result of a failure to provide adequate warning to consumers about a dangerous aspect of the vehicle.