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When attempting to show a car manufacturer or seller’s liability for
a car defect, you do not need to show that they were careless. Unlike
personal injury claims that are based on negligence, liability in car
defect cases is controlled by strict liability. Regardless of the
steps a manufacturer says it takes in creating or handling a car, you
can make a strict liability claim based on a car defect if certain
conditions are present:

1) The car had an unreasonably dangerous defect that harmed you. The
defect may arise from either the car’s design, during handling,
manufacture, shipment, or through a failure to warn consumers of a
dangerous aspect of the car.

2) An injury arose from the defect, while the car was being used properly.

3) There were no substantial alterations to the car from its
original condition when sold.

Manufacturer Defenses

The car manufacturer and the seller may have a defense to your strict
liability claims, particularly if you have owned the car for some
time, if it can be shown that you knew about the defect but continued
to use the car anyway. This can be established through either the
car’s condition or from your description of the use of your car. In
some states, a manufacturer or seller may also be able to defend
against your lawsuit under the theory that your contributory or
comparative negligence was the cause of your injuries.

Punitive Damages

There has been an increasing trend in car liability of
awarding more punitive damages for those who have successfully brought
a claim against a manufacturer or seller. These punitive damages
awards are above and beyond damages to compensate a plaintiff for his
or her injuries, and can range into tens of millions of dollars in
certain instances. Punitive damages are intended to punish
manufacturers and encourage them to fix defects that have resulted in
injury. Traditionally, car manufacturers have engaged in what is known
as a “cost-benefit” analysis when deciding whether to change a
potentially defective design. In this process, the manufacturer will
calculate the cost of implementing a design change, and weigh that
cost against the potential cost of litigation and settlement after the
defect causes injuries. Punitive damages are often awarded in order to
add to the potential costs a manufacturer will face if it decides not
to fix a design defect, thus shifting the cost-benefit analysis toward
the elimination of defects.

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