While the majority of car accidents are the result of one or more drivers acting carelessly or recklessly, one cannot rule out the possibility of product liability.
A determination should be made regarding whether the vehicle’s parts performed as intended and promised. For example, a faulty seat belt or airbag could result in greatly exacerbated injuries. Meanwhile, a defective ignition switch or brake pedal could be the core cause of a crash.
Automobiles and their parts are recalled almost daily. Sometimes, there is evidence manufacturers were aware of the problem long before a recall was issued. Companies need to be held accountable when defects result in injury or death.
The recent case of Heco v. Foster Motors before the Vermont Supreme Court is one example.
According to court records, plaintiff was seriously injured when her 2000 Dodge Neon was rear-ended by another vehicle.
She filed a personal injury lawsuit against the dealer that sold her the vehicle, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the driver’s seat and the manufacturer of the seat belts.
The original complaint detailed how she suffered spinal cord injuries when the driver’s seat back collapsed backward upon impact. Further, the seat belt system and other components failed to properly restrain her. Her claims asserted strict products liability, breach of warranty and negligence.
She later reached an out-of-court, confidential settlement with the seat belt manufacturer, and as a condition of that settlement, that firm was dismissed from the pending lawsuit.
Plaintiff continued to argue the dealer sold her a vehicle that was not crashworthy, and against the other defendants for defective and inadequate design and failure to protect against foreseeable crash forces in rear-end collisions.
Soon after, plaintiff settled out-of-court with the dealership and the auto manufacturer. Here again, those firms paid an undisclosed settlement amount in exchange for being dismissed from the injury case.
The claim continued against the seat manufacturer.
The seat manufacturer, though, sought summary judgment on the dealer’s previous cross-claim for indemnification based on alleged vicarious liability, which was granted in the seat manufacturer’s favor.
Still, trial proceeded and plaintiff secured a $37 million verdict against the seat belt manufacturer. Additional, the trial court entered a final judgment against the dealership and in favor of the seat maker on the issue of cross-claim indemnity.
Essentially, this would make the dealer liable for payment of that $37 million, despite the previous out-of-court settlement with plaintiff.
Dealership appealed that indemnity ruling, and the appeal reached the state supreme court.
The dealership argued it couldn’t be independently liable because the company that manufactured the car (Chrysler) was bankrupt and not named as a defendant.
However, the state supreme court found this argument unsupported and unavailing. Thus, the court affirmed the final judgment in favor of the seat belt manufacturer’s summary judgement on the issue of cross-indemnity.
This could be bad news for the plaintiff if the court decides the out-of-court settlement bars collection of this payment. However, that issue will need to be decided separately.
Our experienced Fort Myers accident attorneys always consider whether it’s appropriate to pursue action against multiple defendants in crash cases – not just the driver who caused the crash. In many scenarios, that maximizes the compensation received by our clients.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Heco v. Foster Motors , Jan. 9, 2015, Vermont Supreme Court
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