Defective Vehicles

Atlanta Defective Car and Truck Lawyers

After an accident, the focus is often on assigning blame among the drivers involved. However, there’s another party that plays a role in every traffic accident and rarely receives the same scrutiny: the manufacturer of the vehicle.

At the Wetherington Law Firm, we recognize that big auto companies like Ford and Chrysler have countless lives depending on their craftsmanship, and we are committed to holding them to that serious responsibility.

Georgia Auto Products Attorney Matt Wetherington is committed to protecting the public from dangerous cars and trucks.
Georgia Auto Products Attorney Matt Wetherington is committed to protecting the public from dangerous cars and trucks.

Preserve the Vehicle and Do Not Sign the Title Over to Your Insurance Company

The single most important thing to know is that the vehicle itself is critical evidence in any defective vehicle claim.  After a wreck, it is common for an insurance company to pay off the property damage and take possession of the vehicle.  The vehicle will then be sold to a scrap yard or crushed.  Without the vehicle, it can be very difficult to prove a defect claim.  If you even remotely suspect a defective vehicle caused or contributed to your injuries, do not allow the vehicle to be sold to the insurance company.  If you do not own the vehicle, contact us immediately so that we can take steps to prevent the vehicle from being destroyed.

What Makes a Vehicle Defective?

Vehicle defect claims come in three categories – design defects, manufacturing defects, and warnings defects.  In most of our cases, the vehicle will suffer from multiple types of defects.

Design Defects in Cars and Trucks

A vehicle may be found to be defective because of its design. Although a car manufacturer, like Chrysler, is not required to ensure that its vehicles are incapable of producing injury, the manufacturer has a duty to exercise reasonable care in choosing the design for its product.  When designing a car, the manufacturer must balance the inherent risk of harm in a vehicle design against the utility or benefits of that product design.  For example, putting the fuel tank in the rear of certain vehicles might save the manufacturer a ton of money, but that decision has also caused many people to die.

Thus, the key question is whether the risk of harm in the vehicle’s design outweighs the utility of that particular design.  In Georgia, when determining whether a vehicle suffers from a design defect, jurors are asked to consider the following factors:

  • the usefulness of the product;
  • the severity of the danger posed by the design;
  • the likelihood of that danger;
  • the avoidability of the danger, considering the user’s knowledge of the product, publicity surrounding the danger, the effectiveness of warnings, and common knowledge or the expectation of danger;
  • the user’s ability to avoid the danger;
  • the technology available when the product was manufactured;
  • the ability to eliminate the danger without impairing the product’s usefulness or making it too expensive;
  • the feasibility of spreading any increased cost through the product’s price or by purchasing insurance;
  • the appearance and aesthetic attractiveness of the product;
  • the product’s utility for multiple uses;
  • the convenience and durability of the product;
  • alternative designs for the product available to the manufacturer; and
  • the manufacturer’s compliance with industry standards or government regulations.

After weighing these factors, ff the car manufacturer chose a design that exposes the public to a greater risk of danger than the manufacturer should have, the car or truck is defective.

Manufacturing Defects in Cars and Trucks

In Georgia, a car or truck manufacturer has a duty to exercise reasonable care in manufacturing vehicles that are reasonably safe.  A manufacturing defect is an unintended flaw or abnormal condition that occurs during the production of the product that makes the product more dangerous than it would have been had the product been manufactured properly.  For example, if a car is supposed to be manufactured with ten bolts holding the seat in place, but the factory worker only installs two, the vehicle has a manufacturing defect.  However, manufacturing defects are not limited to worker errors.  Manufacturing defects can also come from the use of poor materials, inaccurate machinery, and generally bad manufacturing methods.

Warning Defects in Cars and Trucks

In Georgia, a car manufacturer has a duty to give an adequate warning of known or reasonably foreseeable dangers arising from the use of their vehicles. The manufacturer owes this duty to warn to all persons whom the manufacturer should reasonably foresee may use or be affected by the product. A manufacturer’s duty to warn may be breached by failing to provide an adequate warning of the product’s potential dangers or failing to adequately communicate to the ultimate user the warning provided.

A product, however well or carefully made, that is sold without an adequate warning of its dangers is defective.  Even if a person uses a car or truck in a way that is unusual, the manufacturer will still be responsible if it had reason to anticipate or foresee that the product might be used in that manner.  For example, auto manufacturers know that certain car seats will completely collapse and paralyze the occupant if a person over a certain weight is sitting in the seat.  Despite this knowledge, manufacturers do now warn about this hazard.  As a result, the vehicles have a warnings defect.

Identifying a Defective Vehicle

Driving or riding in a vehicle carries an element of inherent danger, so an accident that results in injuries or even fatalities isn’t always proof that the vehicle itself was faulty. However, just like with any product, you have the right to expect a vehicle that work as intended and advertised, without carrying extra, hidden, or unnecessary dangers.

When suing a manufacturer for selling a defective vehicle, you and defective vehicle lawyer will need to prove:

  1. The car or truck defect exists;
  2. The car or truck defect existed when the vehicle was sold, rather than being caused by misuse or significant modification;
  3. The car or truck defect caused a personal injury or death; and
  4. The car or truck defect caused the injury or death while the vehicle was being used in an ordinary way.

In other words, if you were trying to use your car as a boat, or racing it at above-highway speeds, or if you added third-party tinting to the windows, you can’t sue the car manufacturer when it sinks, tips over while taking a turn way too fast, or takes out a mailbox you couldn’t see properly through the tinting.

You also can’t sue for something that might have happened if a defect surfaces without causing any actual harm (although you may be entitled to a free repair or a refund).

This doesn’t mean you should not personalized your car at all — new paint job, a bumper sticker, or an upgraded sound system has nothing to do with the reliability of your airbags, and judges and juries understand that.

Most Common Vehicle Defects

There’s no limit to the possible ways a vehicle might fail and hurt someone, but there is a handful of ways that come up a lot.  Some of the most common defects to cause injury are, intuitively, defects in the safety features. These might include:

  • Seatbelts that disengage unexpectedly or do not adequately restrain the wearer;
  • Airbags that don’t deploy on cue or aren’t installed in key areas; and
  • Roofs that flatten if the car rolls, instead of preserving space for the driver and passengers to survive in.

Other defects not only fail to protect people but cause additional harm in the case of a crash, such as:

  • Front seats that collapse on impact, potentially crushing children riding in the back;
  • Cheap or unshielded fuel systems that rupture and cause fires or explosions;
  • Faulty door latches, which can lead to passengers being either thrown out of or trapped inside the vehicle; and
  • Windows made from inferior glass that allow occupants to be ejected.

Finally, there are the defects that actively cause accidents, including:

  • Faulty brakes
  • Sudden, uncontrolled acceleration
  • Tires that fail under normal use
  • Top-heavy designs that are excessively prone to rolling over

How Car Manufacturers Cheat the System

The simplest defective vehicle cases are those where a defect has caused an injury while all drivers were acting flawlessly; but cases are rarely so simple. It’s much more likely that an accident will also involve a distracted or aggressive driver, a poorly laid out intersection, or some other complicating factor.

Wherever possible, vehicle manufacturers will try to point fingers and shift blame away from themselves, but the truth is that if a defect in the vehicle made the situation worse than it needed to be, the manufacturer is liable for that.

You do not have to choose between a negligent vehicle manufacturer and a negligent driver who hit you, and you don’t have to prove that one of them is solely at fault. There’s often blame to go around.

You also don’t have to prove that the defect was known to the company, or even the result of carelessness. Talking about their rigorous safety standards and procedures is another common tactic of vehicle manufacturers, but no matter how rigorous they are, the company is still responsible when they fail.

Don’t let the empty promises fool you; in most cases, vehicle manufacturers discover dangerous defects long before anyone else does, and they choose not to act because a recall would be more expensive than paying damages for injuries and wrongful death. That’s why we often pursue punitive damages — an additional settlement on top of the amount for the actual harm done — to fight this unethical practice in the only effective way, by making it unprofitable.

The Difference Between a Defect and Damage Caused by a Wreck

Another major point of contention in many defective vehicle cases is whether the problem is truly a defect, or whether it’s damage that occurred later.

Defects are problems that have already been set in motion before the product is sold, and they typically fall into two categories: design defects and manufacturing defects.

Design defects are flaws in the original design of the vehicle, like putting the gas tank in a vulnerable position, and they make every vehicle produced according to that design dangerous. Manufacturing defects are errors that occur during the production process that may only affect a few vehicles, like using a shipment of substandard steel or rubber in an otherwise sound design.

Manufacturers are responsible for preventing defects at every stage in the process of creating the vehicle, so whether the issue is in the blueprint or on the assembly line, the company is liable for the consequences.

Damage, on the other hand, is something that happens to the vehicle after it’s been sold. If you were to drive over a spike strip and try to patch your tire with duct tape, for example, that damaged tire would be less reliable through no fault of the company’s.

The problem is that many defects have to do with how a part breaks, or how easily it breaks, so they don’t become known until there’s a crash, which will usually involve a lot of damage as well. For example, a seatbelt that snaps on impact and allows the wearer to tumble through the windshield is technically damaged, in the sense that it’s no longer in the condition it was sold in, but it’s also defective, in that it failed to do its job of protecting a driver or passenger.

Identifying defects like these amid all the damage in the aftermath of a crash can be extremely complicated, which is why it’s so important to have an expert on your side.

What Damages are Recoverable After Being A Victim of Defective Auto Product

The main public policy purpose for tort law is compensation. Compensatory damages are money damages awarded to compensate the plaintiff and make the plaintiff whole. The system is not perfect. Life, limb, and freedom from pain cannot be restored. However, compensatory damages are a means of attempting to place the plaintiff in the same relative position that he or she was in before the loss by way of monetary compensation.  If the accident result in a death, then special rules apply and the standard for damages changes dramatically.  The case is considered a wrongful death claim.  You can learn more about the damages available in a wrongful death claim here.

When a person is injured by a defective car or truck, they will face economic and non-economic damages. This includes medical expenses (hospital bills, medications, physical therapy, etc.), property damage, pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, lost income and disability.  In rare instances, they may also be entitled to punitive damages.

 “General” Damages for Injuries Caused by a Defective Car of Truck

General damages are “non-economic” losses, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, or mental anguish, all of which have no specific, itemized value.  The monetary value of general damage is determined by the jury, and jury verdicts are not consistent.  A broken ankle in one courtroom could be worth $10,000 in pain and suffering.  In another courtroom, it could be worth $100,000.  Matt Wetherington tried a case in Fulton County that resulted in a $2.8 million verdict for a broken ankle.  You can read about that case here.  However, it is important to know that jury verdicts and settlements vary widely, even for the exact same injury.  The variance is due to the individual plaintiff, the jurors at the trial, and the effectiveness of the injured person’s attorney. Here is an example of a verdict form from one of Matt Wetherington’s cases, where a jury awarded $4.5 million for the “general” damages portion of its verdict:

after a truck failed to stop at an intersection and cut off a motorcycle rider, Matt Wetherington helped the rider obtain an $8.6 million verdict for his injuries, which included amputation of his leg. The verdict set a county record and earned Wetherington a spot in the Georgia Verdicts Hall of Fame.

If you eventually go before a jury in a Georgia court, here are the instructions that will be read to the jury regarding damages that can be recovered:

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Generally; Mental; Future

Pain and suffering is a legal item of damages. The measure is the enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors. Questions of whether, how much, and how long the plaintiff has suffered or will suffer are for you to decide.

Pain and suffering includes mental suffering, but mental suffering is not a legal item of damage unless there is physical suffering also.

In evaluating the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, you may consider the following factors, if proven: interference with normal living; interference with enjoyment of life; loss of capacity to labor and earn money; impairment of bodily health and vigor; fear of extent of injury; shock of impact; actual pain and suffering, past and future; mental anguish, past and future; and the extent to which the plaintiff must limit activities.

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Future

If you find that the plaintiff’s pain and suffering will continue into the future, you should award damages for such future pain and suffering as you believe the plaintiff will endure. In making such award, your standard should be your enlightened conscience as impartial jurors. You would be entitled to take into consideration the fact that the plaintiff is receiving a present cash award for damages not yet suffered.

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Preexisting Injury; Aggravation

No plaintiff may recover for injuries or disabilities that are not connected with the act or omissions of the defendant in this case. There can be no recovery for a particular plaintiff for any injury or disability that was not proximately caused by the incident in question.

If you should find that, at the time of the incident, the plaintiff had any physical condition, ailment, or disease that was becoming apparent or was dormant, and if you should find that the plaintiff received an injury as a result of the negligence of the defendant and that the injury resulted in any aggravation of a condition already pending, then the plaintiff could recover damages for aggravation of the preexisting condition.

 “Special” Damages for Injuries Caused by a Defective Car of Truck

Special damages are “economic” losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or the cost of hiring household help, all of which do have a specific itemized value and can be more easily determined or calculated on a simple mathematical basis – once you have obtained the necessary records to prove that the expenses were incurred.  It is important to note that only medical expenses “proximately caused” by the excessive force can be recovered.  If you would like to learn more about how proximate cause is determined, click here.  For simplicity sake, you should know that proximate cause is often highly contested.

Punitive Damages for Injuries Caused by a Defective Car of Truck

In tort actions, there may be aggravating circumstances that may warrant the awarding or imposing of additional damages called punitive damages.  Punitive damages, when authorized, are imposed not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.  To recover punitive damages, the victim must prove that the manufacturer’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.

The Spouse of an Injured Persons is Entitled to Recover Also

The spouse of an injured person is entitled to recover for something called a loss of consortium.  Loss of consortium damages compensate for the loss of any services one spouse provides to another. Besides those sexual in nature, such services may consist of cooking, cleaning, household chores, household repairs, general companionship, and everything else that comes with a marriage.

Why Should I Hire a Defective Car Lawyer in Atlanta?

Defective vehicle cases involving large medical bills or potentially serious injuries always need the guidance of an attorney.  An experienced defective vehicle attorney can make a huge difference.  If you are undecided about hiring an attorney, call us for a free consultation.  We will walk you through our process, explain what we can do and how we are going to do it.

The Wetherington Law Firm has the experience and financial resources needed to prove your case and obtain full compensation for your injuries.  Every personal injury client receives a dedicated team of lawyers and supporting staff who will do the heavy lifting so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries.  Our clients trust us to do everything possible to obtain full value for their injuries.  Our firm works exclusively on contingency.  That means that you do not pay us a single penny unless and until we obtain a recovery for you.  When you hire us, you can expect us to take the following steps immediately:

  • Preserve all evidence, including the vehicles involved your incident;
  • Identify and interview all witnesses to your incident;
  • Identify all possible defendants;
  • Identify all insurance policies;
  • Develop the evidence necessary to determine the correct standard of care for each defendant;
  • Fully document your current medical condition;
  • Negotiating your medical bills;
  • Work with your physicians to understand your future medical needs and how much they will cost; and
  • Keep you informed every step of the way.
Every case receives a dedicated team of experience medical malpractice lawyers and supporting staff who will keep you informed throughout the case.
Every case receives a dedicated team of experienced defective vehicle lawyers and supporting staff who will keep you informed throughout the case.

 How to Hire the Best Defective Products Lawyers in Atlanta

Hiring a lawyer for your defective car or truck claim is one of the most important financial decisions you can ever make.  Choosing an unqualified lawyer can result in a devastating result.  There are many attorneys who hold themselves out as “experts” who have never tried a case or even settled a case involving a defective vehicle.  It is important that you ask any prospective attorney about his or her experience with defective product lawsuits, specifically with regard to the vehicle component at issue in your accident.

Call or email us today for a free consultation.  If we accept your case, it will be on contingency.  That means that you do not pay anything up front and only pay us if we win your case.  If we do not accept your case, we will help you find a lawyer who can.  We generally only accept cases involving significant injuries.  However, we know many good medical malpractice attorneys and will make sure that you do not have to search around for someone to accept your case.

You Can Make a Lasting Difference in the Lives of Others by Hiring the Wetherington Law Firm

Obtaining full and complete compensation for our clients is the most important service we provide to our clients.  Protecting the general public and making sure that other people are protected is part of obtaining justice.  We frequently work with law enforcement, local government officials, state legislators, and federal agencies to understand the root cause of dangerous conditions.  This often leads to uncovering dangerous trends or patterns of behavior that must be changed.  Many of our clients have chosen not to be defined by their injuries, and instead choose to serve as a beacon of hope to others.  Whether through legislation, refusing to settle unless changes or made, or simply sharing their story, our client’s efforts have helped save MILLIONS of people from serious injury or death.  If you can help prevent even one other person from being hurt or injured by the same problem, it will help make every day of your recovery a little bit better.  We care about you as a person and will work with you however you want to help make the world a safer and better place.  Call us now to get started.

Speak to a Defective Vehicle Attorney for Free

We accept all cases on contingency. That means that we advance all expenses and you do not pay anything unless we win. Call us at 404-888-4444 or use the form below to get started.

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Why Hire Us?

Reputation matters. Our firm only pursues high value, meritorious lawsuits. The insurance companies may not like us, but they respect the work we do and results we obtain for our clients. When a case moves into litigation, the defense attorneys know that we have properly investigated the claims, know the applicable law, and are preparing the case for trial.

There is no risk when hiring our firm.

We do not charge attorney fees for obtaining property damage or medical payment coverage for our clients. Other firms charge for this service.

We have saved our clients millions simply by negotiating medical bills and fighting invalid medical liens.