In an automobile product liability lawsuit, someone injured by an allegedly defective automobile or part sues the manufacturer or distributor of that product. Under the theory of strict products liability, it is not even necessary to prove negligence on the part of the manufacturer to win a claim. Depending on the circumstances, a number of affirmative defenses might be asserted.

Affirmative Defenses vs. Negating Defenses

In a negating defense, you simply contradict one of the plaintiff’s claims and present enough evidence to prevent the plaintiff from proving his claim. You might, for example, deny the plaintiff’s claim that you sold him the automobile in question (if you are an auto dealer). The burden of proof (on a “more likely than not” standard) remains with the plaintiff.

When you assert an affirmative defense, you try to prove an additional fact that will relieve you from liability even if all of the plaintiff’s claims are true. You bear the burden of proving an affirmative defense by the same “more likely than not” standard.

Most Common Affirmative Defenses

Following are the most commonly asserted affirmative defenses in automobile-related strict products liability claims:

  • The “sophisticated user” defense – The sophisticated user defense applies when the plaintiff alleges that he was injured because the defendant failed to warn of the dangers of the product. The defense might counter by claiming by virtue of his position, training, etc., this particular user should have already known of the dangers.

  • The product misuse or modification defense – This defense applies if the plaintiff misused or modified the automobile after it left the defendant’s possession to the extent that the resulting harm was not “reasonably foreseeable” (and therefore the automobile, as it existed when it left the defendant’s possession, was not the sole cause of the harm).

  • The inherent danger defense – This defense applies when the plaintiff tries to show that the automobile was “defective” by virtue of features that, although dangerous, are inherent in an automobile and are no more dangerous than the ordinary consumer would expect.

Additional defenses are available when the defendant contracted with the government to produce the product for military use – a situation that does not often come up in automobile products liability claims.

Contrast: Express Warranty Claims

Express warranty claims are products liability claims based on warranty, not strict products liability. A plaintiff may assert both strict products liability and express warranty claims for the same injury. An affirmative defense that works for one claim might not work for the other. Express warranty claims are subject to their own set of affirmative defenses.

Don’t Play around with General Practitioners

The automobile industry is heavily regulated, and many advantages accrue to those who retain a law firm that fully understands its complexities and nuances. The attorneys of CKB Vienna enjoy extensive experience handling cases that arise in this industry. We  serve clients all over Rancho Cucamonga, including Alta Loma and Etiwanda. Contact us online or telephone us at 909-980-1040 to set up a consultation.

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