The state of California pioneered strict products liability law in the 1960s. These days, it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that California law turns product manufacturers into insurers of the products they manufacturer. A consumer can win damages against a manufacturer for a personal injury caused by its product, even without showing fault in the part of the manufacturer.

Elements of a Products Liability Claim Against an Automobile Manufacturer

To win a products liability claim against an automobile manufacturer, the plaintiff (the injured party) must prove that the four “elements” of the claim were more likely than not to be present. These four elements are:

  • The defendant manufactured the automobile in question.

  • The automobile was defective and unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the defendant’s hands.

  • The plaintiff’s use of the automobile was reasonable and foreseeable.

  • The plaintiff was injured by the defect in the automobile.

All four of these elements must be proven for the plaintiff to prevail.

What Is a Design Defect?

A design defect is one of the three kinds of defects (design defect, manufacturing defect, and warning defect) that will support a products liability claim under California law. California applies two design defect tests to determine whether a design defect is present, and the satisfaction of either test is sufficient to prove the existence of an unreasonably dangerous design defect.  These two tests are:

  • The consumer expectation test: The product, as designed, did not perform as safely as the typical consumer would expect it to perform.

  • The risk/benefit test: The risks inherent in the design outweigh the benefits of the design.

An example of an automobile design defect that would probably fail the risk/benefit test would be a cruise control mechanism that shuts off only when a button on the steering wheel is pressed, not when the brakes are tapped – a driver who did not realize this could easily find himself unable to brake the vehicle.

The Special Danger of Losing a Design Defect Claim

In a typical products liability lawsuit, the losing party must pay the defendant’s medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other expenses – the total of which may turn out to be several times the amount of the plaintiff’s medical bills alone. Losing a design defect case, however, might result in the need to redesign the vehicle and recall any existing vehicles.

The danger is that your loss in a design defect products liability lawsuit will set a precedent that will allow other injured plaintiffs to easily win lawsuits against you on the same basis. Since it would be just as easy for a plaintiff to prove that you knew of the design defect (because of the previous case), subsequent lawsuits might even subject you to liability for punitive damages.

It’s Time to Draw a Line in the Sand.

Losing a design defect products liability case could cause you to spend millions of dollars. At CKB Vienna LLP, however, we know how to fight back. We take cases from Rancho Cucamonga, including Alta Loma and Etiwanda, as well as Upland, Fontana, Ontario, Chino Hills, and Claremont. Call us at 909-980-1040 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.