Failure to Warn Issues in Automotive Products Liability Cases


Failure to Warn Issues in Automotive Products Liability Cases

The essential elements of proof that a plaintiff has to establish in a products liability action against a manufacturer or seller of a motor vehicle are that the vehicle as sold contained a defect that created an unreasonable risk of death, personal injury, or property damage when used for its intended purpose and that the defect caused an accident or similar occurrence, such as a vehicle fire, that resulted in the loss for which the plaintiff seeks to recover damages. Claims of vehicle defect can include allegations of inadequacies in the design of a motor vehicle, errors in the manner in which its parts were manufactured and assembled into a complete car or truck, or failure to warn the purchaser or user of the vehicle of some risk inherent in its use.

A plaintiff making a failure to warn claim in an automotive products liability action alleges, in essence, that the manufacturer (or other seller) of a car or truck knew or should have known of the existence of a danger incident to the intended use of the vehicle, but failed to warn the purchaser or user of the vehicle about the danger, and that the failure to give such a warning caused an accident or similar incident to occur as a consequence of the particular danger on which the warning should have been given. Failure to warn cases can arise from many aspects of the use and operation of motor vehicles, and may include risks associated with such things as tires, wheel rims, batteries, jacks, and airbags. Questions may be raised as to whether a manufacturer may be found to have a duty to warn about foreseeable misuse of a vehicle, such as the risk of driving a car or truck for an extended period at high speed with tires that are not designed to withstand such use. An argument available to a manufacturer in a failure to warn case is that the risk that is the basis of the plaintiff’s claim was open and obvious, so that no duty existed that the manufacturer warn of the particular risk. Courts have expressed differing opinions on whether a manufacturer or seller can be found to have a duty to warn of risks that it learns about after the sale of a product.

The law of products liability in the United States, including automotive products liability law, has evolved for over half a century out of developments in the separate legal systems of the states rather than out of a single unified body of federal law. (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA for short, has enacted a body of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or FMVSS, with which every new vehicle sold in the United States has to comply, and these standards may have an effect in some automotive products liability cases.) While the legal principles applicable to products liability actions in the different states contain many similarities, the legal standards governing failure to warn claims in automotive products liability cases will vary from state to state.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.