We are a nation of drivers. In 2016, close to 270 million vehicles were registered in the United States. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, approximately three-quarters of all households had a vehicle.
Jersey City’s car-owning households represented about 64% of the total, and households in Newark with a vehicle hovered around 60%. Paterson came in a bit higher with 67%.
That equates to a lot of autos in New Jersey and across the nation.
With such a vast number of vehicles, it’s inevitable that problems with defects arise. However, when an auto defect causes an accident that results in harm or injury, the victims have the legal right to pursue compensatory remedies for their loss and suffering. This is the foundation behind products liability law as it applies to defective vehicles and auto parts.
What are Defective Auto Parts?
Under this area of law, auto parts may refer to individual parts and systems in a motor vehicle and to an entire car, truck, motorcycle, van or other motor vehicle. A defect generally means a failure, flaw or issue that detrimentally impacts the safe performance of a motor vehicle and/or any of its systems or components.
The defect can be built into the design, due to construction or assembly errors, caused by the material a part is made from, or any combination of these factors.
Automobile defects don’t always cause injuries. Some are very minor or cosmetic and don’t pose a danger to safety or life. And in the case of dangerous defects, the hope is that they’re discovered quickly. In the best-case scenario, when a potentially hazardous design or manufacturing defect exists, the manufacturer learns of the problem and recalls the part or vehicle before accidents and harm occur. When possible, a repair is performed, or a replacement is installed.
The following are common examples of auto parts that may suffer from defects in design, fabrication or assembly:
- Brakes/braking system
- AC/cooling/temp control system
- Electrical system
- Engine assembly
- Exhaust system
- Fuel system/gas tanks
- Lubrication system
- Warning/Safety systems
- Passenger compartment
- Gas pedals
- Car seats
- Door latches
- Ignition switch
- Steering and suspension systems
- Vehicle glass
- Automobile paint
- Key fobs
- Transmission and drivetrain
- Crashworthiness faults
Both federal and state laws apply in defective motor vehicle claims. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act is the overriding federal law that has been in place since 1966 to help ensure that automobiles meet national safety standards. This law established what is now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (initially called the National Highway Safety Bureau). The NHTSA is tasked with overseeing the regulation of vehicles in the U.S. for safety protocols and standards.
In New Jersey, the New Jersey Product Liability Act is the state law that addresses injury claims that arise from a defective product, which includes defective auto parts. This law deals with strict liability, which assigns responsibility to parties that owe a duty to a consumer who uses their products. Product liability law is a common avenue for victims who have suffered injury due to defective auto parts.
To sustain a claim or lawsuit under theories of strict liability, the consumer (plaintiff) must demonstrate the following:
- The auto part or vehicle was defective,
- The failure or fault was present when the part/auto left the control of the liable party (defendant),
- The design or manufacturing defect was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and
- It was foreseeable that the person who suffered injury from the defective automobile or component was a reasonably foreseeable user of the product.
Under strict liability, it isn’t necessary to prove that the defendant acted negligently. Instead you must show that they didn’t exercise reasonable care when designing or manufacturing the part or vehicle.
Another important New Jersey law that deals with defective auto parts is the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Warranty Act, also known as the Lemon Law. It was initially created to deal with new car defects and was enacted in 1989. This is a consumer protection law that covers New Jersey consumers who lease, register or buy new motorcycles or automobiles in the state, and offers protection for the first two years or 18,000 miles.
In 1996, the Lemon Law was expanded to cover used cars. It requires dealers to warranty components of the power trains of used vehicles for at least 30 days or 1,000 miles, 60 days or 2,000 miles, or 90 days or 3,0000. These minimums are set based upon the number of miles on the vehicle’s odometer when it is sold to the consumer. It only applies to used autos that are no more than 7 model years old, with a purchase price of no less than $3,000. If an insurance company has declared the vehicle a total loss, it will not be covered under this law.
These lemon laws cover financial property losses that result from the auto defects. Compensation is in the form of repairs, replacements and refunds. Injury due to defect is not covered.
Vehicle and Auto Parts Recalls
Recalls are the primary method that the NHTSA uses to protect consumers from defective auto parts and vehicles. When noncompliance with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard or a safety defect is identified in a vehicle, this federal agency is tasked with investigating the violation or safety issue. When the investigation uncovers a defect, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation makes the manufacturer notify the public and issue a recall. The manufacturer must also take steps to remedy the problem, typically by providing repairs, refunds or replacements to consumers free of charge. These recalls apply to vehicles that are no older than 15 years on the date that the defect is found.
Consumers play an important role in this process. When they notice a safety-related issue with their vehicle, their reports to the NHTSA are what brings the problem to light and initiates an investigation. Consumers can file these reports via the Department of Transportation’s Vehicle Safety Hotline, online at safercar.gov or through U.S. Postal Mail.
Note that automobile manufacturers can and do issue recalls without intervention by the ODI. This voluntary action is quite common. When companies take this step, they must report their findings to the NHTSA, owners, distributors, and dealers.
Responsible Parties and Damages
In a defective auto parts claim or lawsuit, there may be multiple defendants. The most common parties are:
- Auto Manufacturers
- Parts manufacturers, and
- When the defect is with a replacement part, anyone in the chain of distribution:
- Shipping company
Common damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Lost earning ability
- Pain and suffering
- A spouse’s loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
The Reinartz Law Firm Can Help When You’ve Been Injured Due to a Defective Auto Part
Defective auto parts and products liability claims are complex matters that benefit from the work of an experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer. At The Reinartz Law Firm, our dedicated team has an extensive background, know-how, and resources to help you pursue maximum financial recovery for your injuries. We are familiar with the applicable laws for these types of claims and work tirelessly to prove your case and help you get the benefits and compensation you need.
If a defective motor vehicle or component part caused injury or fatality, we can help. Contact our team of New Jersey Product Liability Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your claim.