There are two ways to defend against an automobile product liability claim. One way is to submit evidence to directly refute the plaintiff’s claims – as in “Yes, you did”/”No, we didn’t”. The other way is to raise additional facts that will partially or fully release you from liability. The following list describes several well-known examples of the second variety:
The Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations defines the deadline by which you must either file a product liability lawsuit or forever hold your peace. In California, the general statute of limitations deadline is two years from the date that you knew, or should have known, of the injury caused by the product (exceptions exist). If filed too late, your lawsuit can be dismissed.
The Statute of Repose: Many states have passed statutes of repose. A statute of repose sets an age limit on the product itself: the clock begins ticking the day that the product is first sold, and once the deadline expires, no injury arising after the expiration date will be entertained by the courts. Although California has passed a ten-year statute of repose, it applies only to improvements in real estate. No statute of repose exists for any other product.
Comparative Negligence: If the plaintiff shares fault for his own injury (an intoxicated driver sues an automobile manufacturer for faulty brake drums, for example), the plaintiff’s percentage of fault will be used to reduce the amount of damages – if he was 25 percent at fault, he would lose 25 percent of his damages; if he was 60 percent at fault, he would lose 60 percent of his damages.
Unavoidably Unsafe Products: Certain socially useful products carry with them inherent risks that cannot be completely eliminated. In the case of drugs and vaccines, the defendant can assert this as a defense as long as the drug was properly prepared and accompanied by appropriate risk warnings based on current scientific knowledge.
Product Misuse or Modification: If the product was misused or modified after it left the defendant’s possession in an unforeseeable manner, the defendant can claim that the misuse or modification was (i) the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury and, therefore, the defendant should not be held liable, or (ii) a contributing cause of the plaintiff’s injury and, therefore, the defendant’s liability should be reduced.
State of the Art: In a design defect case, a defendant may argue that the use of the product carries inherent dangers and that the product’s benefits outweigh its inherent risks. In a failure to warn case, the defendant may argue that the product’s unmentioned risks were neither known nor knowable by the defendant based on the current state of scientific advancement.
The foregoing is not an exhaustive list of defenses available to defendants in product liability claims. A variety of contractual defenses, for example, may be available between commercial parties.
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If your company has become the subject of an automobile product liability claim, telephone CKB Vienna LLP at 909-980-1040 or fill out our online contact form to learn how we can help you defend your interests. We serve clients from the Rancho Cucamonga area, including Alta Loma, Etiwanda, Upland, Fontana, Ontario, Chino Hills, and Claremont.