17 Feb

10 Terms You Should Know If You Were Injured Because Of A Defective Vehicle

Car Accidents, General, Product Recalls

defective vehicle

The overwhelming majority of car accidents are caused by driver error. Someone was texting, speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, not paying attention to the traffic signs, thinking they could make a U-turn…there is no shortage of carelessness and recklessness on the roads! 

However, sometimes, the car – not the driver – is at fault. The airbag didn’t deploy. The brakes failed. The seat belt snapped. The tires blew. The roof caved in. There are multiple ways that an auto manufacturer needs to make sure that the car is safe and functions properly; if it does not, and you are injured because of it, then you may have a case for compensation. 

Wading into the legal world of defective vehicle claims can be incredibly overwhelming and confusing. Whether you are just doing some preliminary research or whether you have already spoken with an attorney and were confused by some of the legal jargon they used, here are 10 terms you should know! 

1 – Auto Product Liability – 

This is a general term referring to responsibility by an auto manufacturer for producing and selling a vehicle that is defective. When a defective vehicle causes injuries or death, the victims may have an auto product liability claim for monetary damages.

2 – Unreasonably Dangerous Design

This legal term refers to when vehicles or parts are properly manufactured – they are not defective – but have a design that increases the likelihood of injury. The vehicle or part is used for its intended purposes but still poses a “foreseeable” risk, foreseeable being a key word. 

In Florida, there is a consumer expectation test the court uses; if it fails to perform safely as a reasonable consumer would expect using it as intended, then the vehicle may be considered to have an unreasonably dangerous design. 

Particularly if the manufacturer could produce an alternative design, which was economically viable and would still allow the vehicle to function as a vehicle, then the manufacturer may be on the hook for damages. The court has to consider the state of technology at the time the vehicle was produced and marketed up until the injury took place. 

Take, for example, the Ford Pinto of the 1970s. It was small, and cheap (only $2,000); it took only two years to be designed and put in production. To keep cost and size down, there was no bumper to cushion collisions, and there were no reinforcements protecting the gas tank. The doors also had a tendency to jam shut after an impact; taken together, these three factors meant that the cars were likely to catch fire after a collision (particularly a rear-end collision) and lock the driver and passengers inside. 27 deaths were linked to the vehicle’s “unreasonably dangerous” design.

3 – Failure To Warn – 

This legal term refers to an auto manufacturer (or distributor) failing to provide adequate warnings – that are understandable to the average driver and highly visible – for a risk that would not obviously be predicted. 

For example, currently in the news there is a lot of talk about seatback collapses resulting in serious injuries or death to children or passengers in the backseat, particularly when the driver or front seat passenger is overweight or hit at high speeds. If the auto manufacturer knows that this is a risk for overweight consumers, and fails to warn consumers of this risk (which is not obvious), then they could be held liable. 

Another central question is whether or not the plaintiff was driving the vehicle as intended; if they were not, and were not in a way the auto manufacturer/distributor could predict (for example, driving a minivan through a field or forest, off road) then the manufacturer may not be held liable. 

Also, auto manufacturers can be held liable for failure to warn even for risks they weren’t aware of themselves. If they SHOULD have been aware of those risks because of reasonable testing, they can be held liable. 

4 – Negligence – 

This refers to one of two ways to go about holding an auto manufacturer accountable legally (liable) for their actions. Negligence focuses on the actions of the manufacturer/distributor; their carelessness or intentional wrongdoing led directly to the injuries of someone who was hurt by their defective vehicle. Negligence must be proven; attorneys have to show that the defendant violated a law or duty of care to the injured plaintiff, that the law or duty of care was designed to protect a certain class of people and that the plaintiff is in that class, and that the plaintiff was injured. 

5 – Strict Liability – 

This is the other of the two ways to recover damages and hold an auto manufacturer liable, and is the more straightforward of the two. The legal theory is that manufacturers are responsible for their vehicles, and as long as the attorney for the plaintiff can prove they were harmed by the defective vehicle, it does not matter if negligence was a factor for damages to be recoverable; the manufacturer is automatically, or strictly, on the hook.

6 – Express Warranty – 

Express warranties are written promises made in a sales contract or promises made by the sellers (including descriptions of the goods) that make up the basis of the sale of the vehicle and state that the vehicle is as described and functions well/safely. Express warranties can be in paperwork, but they can also be in commercials or in-store advertising. 

(Florida’s guidelines around express warranty claims have been confusing, which is why if you are curious about express warranties or believe you may have an express warranty claim in addition to any other claim, you should contact an attorney who can help you determine if this should be part of your case.)

7 – Implied Warranty Of Merchantability – 

This is a contractual term referring to an implied guarantee – made when the manufacturer puts the vehicle for sale – that the product does not have design defects, manufacturing defects, or improper/inadequate labels. The promise to the consumer is that the vehicle is fit for its intended purpose. Thus, if you have a claim for a dangerous design, failure to warn, or defective vehicle, you also may be able to recover damages for a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. 


8 – Chain Of Distribution – 

Any entity who interacted with the defective vehicle meaningfully on its way to you – anyone on the chain of distribution – may be liable for your injuries. 

  • The manufacturer 
  • The parts manufacturer (if a specific part manufactured, like an airbag, was responsible for your injury), unless you bought the part (like tires)  separately
  • The car dealership (sold it to you), and 
  • The shipper 

all may potentially be on the receiving end of your lawsuit. 

9 – Statute Of Limitations – 

This refers to the limited window of time you have to bring an auto product liability claim against an auto manufacturer. In the state of Florida, this is 4 years from the date that the facts were discovered (which would likely coincide with the date of injury). If the defect caused a death, the window is shorter – 2 years. 

If you are injured due to a defective vehicle, and you do not bring a legal claim before the statute of limitations expires, it is likely you will lose your right to do so at all, and will not be able to recover damages. (That is why it is so important to act quickly and consult with knowledgeable local auto accident attorneys who can move your case along quickly!) 

10 – Punitive Damages – 

Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish the defendant in an auto product liability case and set an example that would deter other auto manufacturers from being similarly negligent. These types of damages are only applicable if your case goes to trial. For example, if you were injured by a defective vehicle, and you were seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages because that is the approximate cost of your injuries and pain and suffering, the court may award you those damages and then an extra $300,000 in punitive damages (to really “stick it” to the defendant). 


Injured Due To A Defective Vehicle? Don’t Hesitate To Get Legal Representation. The Florida Law Group Is Dedicated To Winning!

Being injured due to a defective vehicle can change your life forever, and end up costing you tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, lost wages, and more. You shouldn’t pay if the auto manufacturer or if other parties were at fault! The Florida Law Group’s aggressive legal team has recovered over $1 billion for our clients since 1984. You can trust our auto product liability lawyers to fight for the justice you deserve! You don’t have to pay any of our legal fees until we win a settlement or award for you; call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your rights.