Vehicles can catch fire in accidents or during normal use. Either way, people inside face potential injuries and deaths due to smoke inhalation, burns caused by heat, or burns caused by burning fluids on their bodies. This living nightmare causes hundreds of deaths in the US annually. What makes the situation worse is that some of these injuries and deaths could’ve been prevented if vehicle parts were adequately designed and manufactured.
A Car is the Sum of Its Parts
If a vehicle fire happens without the vehicle being involved in a crash, there’s a good chance some part malfunctioned, or the car was negligently repaired or serviced. Even if an accident’s involved, depending on how it happened, the impact may not be to blame for the failure of a part causing a fire.
Vehicles and their parts are designed to withstand a certain amount of force released in an accident. If the part didn’t perform as it was supposed to, the design or manufacture might be to blame. Many vehicle parts can contribute to a vehicle fire, most frequently:
- Fuel systems
- Electrical systems
- Engine defects
Fuel may leak and ignite when vapors hit an open flame or hot car part. Electrical systems can overheat or throw sparks, causing a fire. Hot engines leaking oil or fuel can result in a fire.
Defective Parts and Negligence Claims
Insurance claims and lawsuits are tools to help an injured accident victim get compensation for their injuries and financial losses. The plaintiff (the injured party) makes an insurance claim against the insured, the party who caused the accident and injuries (usually another driver), or files a lawsuit against them (making them the defendant).
If a vehicle fire resulted in injuries, with or without a collision, we would investigate the cause to see if a defective part played a role. We may hire outside experts to ensure we understand what happened, how, and why to help us decide who might be held accountable.
If we think a part manufacturer, distributor, seller, or installer was negligent and that played a role in putting a dangerous part in our client’s car, and it resulted in the fire, we may seek a recovery from their insurance carrier. If they’re not reasonable and we can’t reach a settlement, we’ll make these companies defendants in a lawsuit.
A negligence claim would require us to prove to a judge or jury that it’s more likely than not:
- There’s a relationship between the plaintiff and defendant (the defendant made, sold, or installed the part)
- As a result, the defendant owes the plaintiff a legal duty or obligation (to supply a reasonably safe part)
- That legal duty was breached (the part was unsafe)
- Due to that breach, the defendant’s actions are the factual and legal (or proximate) cause of the fire and injuries
- The plaintiff suffered damages (the harm suffered measured in dollars)
- Texas law requires the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for those damages
These issues must be proven to have a successful insurance claim or lawsuit.
Product Liability Claims
A product liability claim is another way to hold responsible parties accountable in these situations is a product liability claim. It doesn’t rely on negligence. It’s a different area of law that accident victims can use to obtain compensation. If a defective part’s involved, most lawsuits will claim defendants are liable under both types of law.
The focus is on the product and whether it was safe to use as intended. Was the product:
- Engineered or designed correctly? Given what it’s expected to do, was the part safe?
- Manufactured correctly? The design may have been sufficient, but if it fails because it’s poorly manufactured or assembled, possibly with substandard parts, the company may be liable
- Supplied with sufficient instructions or warnings? Did the company provide warnings of the part’s limitations, stating it should be used only under certain circumstances? Were there correct instructions on how it should be installed, or were steps missing or incorrect, making the part dangerous?
Negligence claims are often driven by the defendant’s mental mistakes. They decided to do the wrong thing, or they did something improperly. Product liability law is more objective, focusing on the facts surrounding the part, including whether it performed like it was supposed to, and if not, why not?
Any party involved in putting the part into the car is a potential defendant. This includes the part manufacturer, the vehicle manufacturer, part distributors, sellers, vehicle dealers, or repair shops.
Which Vehicle Accident Attorney Should I Trust?
The skilled personal injury attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. have helped hundreds of people in Houston and throughout Texas win their negligence and product liability cases and get the compensation they deserve.
We’re standing by to fight for you if you’ve been injured or lost a loved one because of a vehicle fire. Call us today at 713-893-0971 to schedule a free consultation with a lawyer from our personal injury and defective product law firm.