As Baltimore, MD, personal injury lawyers, the attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, have the training and litigation skills to handle a variety of bodily injury claims ranging from automobile accidents and motorcycle wrecks to medical malpractice and nursing home abuse cases. As part of our practice we often run across instances involving the area of law known as “products liability.”
An interesting aspect of this area of law is that it can apply as much to consumer products such as household appliances, infant formula and swimming pools as it can to power tools, sporting goods and motor vehicles. In fact, as automobile and commercial trucking accident lawyers, it is not uncommon for some injury-related or fatal traffic accidents to have been caused to some degree by the failure of one or more critical vehicle components or parts.
All across the country, as well as here in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area, car accidents can and do occur as a direct result of a defect in a car, truck or motorcycle part or control system. While many people immediately think of driver error or outright negligence when they hear of a serious car or trucking-related collision in their town, the failure of an important steering, braking or other vehicle control system can be as much to blame as a distracted or reckless driver.
From passenger cars and light trucks to recreational vehicles, motorbikes and scooters, and even commercial tractor-trailer rigs, a single defective part can lead to the injury or death of one or more innocent victims anywhere on our public roadways. Beltway accidents, urban pedestrian collisions and car wrecks along rural routes can each be caused in whole or part by a defective product.
As Maryland personal injury attorneys, we know there is a good chance that a faulty part, remanufactured component or improperly maintained vehicle system could result in the serious injury of you or a loved one. Most anyone now reading this could one day find themselves in the hospital following an automotive-related accident arising from a defective car or truck product. Although there is no way of knowing when or where such an event may occur, the odds are it will happen to some unsuspecting victim.
As the federal agency responsible for issuing and enforcing automotive safety standards in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) -- is charged with investigating alleged defects in passenger vehicles and related automotive equipment. Created by the Highway Safety Act of 1970, the NHTSA’s existence grew out of the deficiencies in past industrial practices relating to notification and curing of manufacturing defects.
Among other things, the Safety Act requires any manufacturing company that determines a safety-related defect exists in its vehicles or equipment to notify its customers of the safety-related defects and to remedy those defects. The Act also gives the NHTSA the authority to investigate automobile and truck manufacturing defects and then to require the specific company(s) involved to issue a recall notice when the agency determines that a vehicle or equipment safety defect exists.
Should an automaker fail to voluntarily recall one or more of its vehicles containing a safety-related defect, the NHTSA has the power to order that company to do so. The agency also has the authority to penalize a company for failure to fulfill its responsibility to recall a motor vehicle affected by a safety-related defect. (Specifically, the term “defect” refers to any defect in vehicle performance, construction, a component or the material used in the manufacture of a passenger car.)
A landmark ruling arising from the so-called “Wheels Case” laid the ground work for the definition of the term “defect” as stated in the Safety Act. The case involved allegedly faulty road wheels on General Motors pickup trucks. While GM acknowledged that the wheels, which were produced by supplier Kelsey-Hayes, were indeed failing in service, the automaker contended that the NHTSA had not shown that the wheel failures were not the result of misuse by the vehicle owners themselves.
As part of its case against GM, the NHTSA relied mostly on the large number of wheel failures to prove there was a “defect in performance.” The agency revealed numerous GM records showing there had been more than 2,000 potential performance-related wheel failures, from which the NHTSA made a random sample of 160 owners and obtained affidavits from those individuals. Based on the statistical evidence, extrapolated to show the larger population of failures, the agency filed and was granted a summary judgment against GM.
General Motors subsequently appealed the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; however, the appellate court upheld the original judgment based on the NHTSA’s argument that an automotive component’s performance defect could be proved by showing a large number of failures in that component.
What this case essentially established was that it is not a sufficient defense for an automaker to assert no performance defect exists simply because a vehicle owner exceeded the weight imitations of his vehicle or failed to properly inflate his tires to manufacturers’ specifications provided, as the ruling stated, that the “owner abuse” was not so serious as to be unforeseeable by the manufacturer.
In other words, because these vehicle owners did not always pay that close attention to the cargo weight carried in the truck bed, and since they may not always have maintained their tires to the exact inflation pressures or loaded that cargo in a carefully balanced manner, such as front-to-back and side-to-side, the appellate court held that a “commonsense” approach would require an automaker to build a certain margin of safety into the vehicle’s components in order to protect against failure during day-to-day operation.
Understanding the law as we do, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen takes relevant products liability case law into consideration when approaching an injury-related defective product accident case. We also make it our job to help victims of automobile and trucking-related traffic accidents recover damages and obtain other compensation (such as lost wages) following a serious or life-altering traffic collision.
Since injuries associated with products liability can include compound fractures, torn ligaments, soft-tissue injuries, and even closed-head trauma or spinal cord injury, recovering the victim’s related medical expenses is of primary concern. Most anyone these days can understand that the cost of healthcare is one of the fastest rising expenses for the average family. When a victim is hospitalized through no fault of his own, there is no reason why that person or his family should be expected to pay for medical care resulting from another party’s negligent action or inaction.
In the case of commercial trucking accidents, it is important to point out studies have shown that defective equipment plays a key role in many trucking-related accidents. For instance, in a study of commercial truck accidents conducted between 2001 and 2003 (known as the “Large Truck Crash Causation Study”), accident investigation data showed that defective equipment can play a key role in many truck accidents. Specifically, of all the trucks involved in traffic crashes as analyzed in that study, more than half had at least one mechanical violation. Furthermore, nearly a third of the involved trucks had at least one “out-of-service” condition.
In fact, as experienced trucking accident attorneys, we know of studies that show an 18-wheel semi tractor-trailer that has some kind of defective equipment is twice as likely to be involved in a traffic accident as a commercial motor vehicle with no defect. Brake defects, one of the most common problems, were found in more than half of all tractor-trailer crashes studied. Steering system defects were found about one-fifth of crash-involved commercial trucking accidents. Although federal and state trucking regulations are written to protect the public, many truckers and trucking companies attempt to skirt the law at times with horrendous results.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we know that a well-prepared injury lawsuit can make all the difference in a commercial trucking accident or passenger car wrongful death lawsuit. We fully intend to take every case to trial, but sometimes on the sheer strength of the victim’s claims and the thoroughness of our case preparation it is possible to settle out-of-court. This can save time and spare the victim’s family the emotional toll of a full-blown trial.
Whether you or a loved one has been hurt in defective products-related car, truck or motorcycle wreck, we recommend that you contact an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney to discuss the specifics of your case. The automobile and trucking injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are prepared to listen and help you understand your rights as a victim of a serious automobile or commercial trucking crash. Please call us toll-free at (800) 654-1949, or email either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.