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There are many causes for motor vehicle accidents, and it can be difficult to determine whether defective car parts were a factor. Driver error, poor road conditions, heavy traffic, and neglect of car maintenance can also contribute to car crashes in Texas and around the country.

Many times, drivers who experience software or mechanical malfunctions need help in gathering the right evidence to file a claim against a car manufacturer, and they turn to a car part liability accident lawyer in their local area for help. Let’s explore how often defective auto parts cause car accidents, what types of injuries might be sustained by victims, and how to pursue a product liability claim if appropriate.

How Common Are Accidents Caused by Defective Car Parts?

Data compiled by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that defective parts were the critical cause of about 2% of the vehicle crashes they surveyed, meaning more than 44,000 accidents they reviewed were caused by vehicle malfunctions.1 In many cases, car part recalls were in place or were ordered because of these accidents, to protect users from injury or wrongful death.

The true numbers may, in fact, be higher since the method used in the survey to determine if a car part was defective was a visual inspection of the vehicle.1 Hidden mechanical causes that were not visible would not have been reported into this category.

Auto recalls for defective parts are managed by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which entails specific safety standards requiring manufacturers to issue a recall for vehicles that do not meet those standards or which have defects that might put the safety of drivers or passengers at risk.2 Under these guidelines, more than 390 million vehicles, 42 million child safety seats, and 66 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment have been recalled.1 In fact, 1 in 5 vehicles in the U.S. experienced a recall in 2018 alone.

Any of these defective parts could cause a serious accident or injury and might be cases where an auto accident attorney could have assisted in filing a product liability claim to compensate medical expenses, lost wages, and—in certain cases—pain and suffering. Certainly, auto accident lawyers handle cases like these every year to gain compensation for victims of these tragic accidents.

Common Types of Vehicle Manufacturing Defects

Car part recalls are divided into these categories:

  • Defective design, where the design of the vehicle or part has made it unreasonably dangerous to drivers and passengers.
  • Defects in manufacturing, where the vehicle and its parts were properly designed but made incorrectly or from defective materials.
  • Warning defects, which are typically failures to label or warn users of risks or dangers inherent to the product or to prevent improper use which might cause injury or death.

Which Defective Car Parts Are Likely to Cause Accidents?

While recalls and product liability claims are not limited to these items, there are some car part failures that are known to be potentially dangerous to vehicle owners and their passengers:

  • Software defects of car computers, which are on the rise1 and difficult to identify from visual inspection. Some of these include electronic stability controls, speed control systems, assisted parking, and self-driving cars.
  • Cruise control, exterior lighting, and other electrical system malfunctions.
  • Steering, suspension, and acceleration system parts, which can fail or stick while driving.
  • Structural defects that cause roof collapse or fail to protect occupants from ejection.
  • Defective seat belts, latches, door locks, child seats, and escape mechanisms.
  • Parking brake and vehicle brake systems that fail under normal use.
  • Leaking or improperly placed fuel tanks, lines, and systems.
  • Defects that impact visibility, including windshield wiper malfunctions or window glazing defects.
  • Part failures in the power train, transmission, engine, or cooling system.
  • Airbag malfunction, either failing to go off or going off unexpectedly.
  • Tire defects causing blowouts or de-treading.
  • Any parts that come loose or fall from the vehicle while in operation, including trailer hitches and factory-installed towing packages.

What Kinds of Injuries Can Result from Vehicle Defects?

Crash test with 3d rendering dummy hit with air bag

Many times a Houston product liability lawyer becomes involved when someone is injured in a car accident where defective parts are a possible cause. Some of the ways that mechanical failures and defective car parts can be the cause or a contributing factor to an auto accident include:

  • Airbag failures, which can cause injuries to be more severe when they do not deploy or that cause an accident by deploying when there has been a mild impact or no impact. Airbags can cause burns during the malfunction, and they may deploy with too much or too little force during an accident. Airbag problems are a common cause of car part recalls.
  • Defective seatbelts and restraints, which can come unbuckled suddenly and allow the wearer or a child seat to be thrown from the car during an accident. Preventing occupants from being ejected is one purpose of safety belts and restraints. When they are defective, they can cause severe injuries.
  • Electrical and fuel system defects, which may cause serious and sudden fires that can kill or injure those inside, cause serious burns, and trigger multiple vehicle accidents due to the driver’s panic or pain.
  • Defects that affect crashworthiness and rollover protection. Vehicle design and manufacturing should protect the passenger compartment and direct forces away from those inside while preventing roof collapse with roll bars and “survival cage” reinforcement.
  • Unintentional acceleration or stalling in traffic. When the vehicle suddenly accelerates without warning or dies in fast-moving traffic, immovable objects, head-on collisions, and rear-end impacts can severely injure any drivers and passengers involved.
  • Brake system failure, tire blowout, and power steering defects, which prevent the driver from stopping, engage without warning or lock up the brakes, and/or pull the car violently in one direction can all cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle even when they were exercising reasonable care on the road.

Is the Vehicle Manufacturer Responsible for Injuries Caused by Defective Parts?

In some cases, vehicle manufacturers are held liable for injuries caused by defective car parts and designs. Of course, vehicle owners are responsible to keep their vehicle in good repair and schedule service for recalls after they’ve been notified. It may be wise to consult with an auto accident attorney for guidance regarding the unique details of your case.

If you were involved in an auto accident that you believe was caused by a defective part, gather as much information as you can and take pictures of the vehicle and any visible signs of malfunction. Delay repairing the vehicle until you have time to speak with an experienced auto accident lawyer, and store it in a safe place for a full inspection and investigation.

In general, it may be possible to receive compensation for injuries caused by faulty auto parts, provided that:

  • The vehicle defect caused injuries or wrongful death to you or a loved one.
  • The vehicle design or defect is found to pose an unreasonable risk of harm to occupants.
  • The design or manufacturing of the part or vehicle did not meet applicable safety standards.
  • The failure was not caused by a lack of reasonable maintenance and care on the part of the vehicle owner.

Should You File a Lawsuit if a Defect Caused Your Car Accident?

Mechanic in the blue colored uniform have job in the automobile

Product liability claims, which include claims for defective automobile parts and designs, can be complex to navigate alone. The lawsuit must be filed naming the appropriate parties, which may be designers, manufacturers, or the auto company that assembled, tested, and sold the vehicle. These companies, most likely, have dedicated legal teams and insurance companies working to protect their interests.

Having an experienced Houston car accident lawyer on your side to advise you can be invaluable in protecting your rights in this process. In Texas, the office of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P.—SMS Legal—has successfully helped many victims of accidents involving defective car parts and car part recalls receive the compensation they need and deserve.

If you were or a loved one was injured because of a defective product, contact us to find out more about the possibility of filing a claim. Your first consultation is free, and it can help clear the obstacles and get you and your family back on the road to recovery and financial security.



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Jonathan S. Harris and Matthew D. Shaffer are Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Other attorneys are not board certified.  Principal office is located in Houston, Texas.