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Automobile design defect recalls hit record levels

In the first seven months of 2015, automakers recalled more than 34.5 million vehicles in the United States -- more than in any similar time period except the first seven months of 2014. The surge in recalls is driven in part by recalls related to Takata airbags. So far this year, about 14 million vehicles equipped with the rupture-prone airbags have been recalled.

The large number of recalls is also the result of increasingly aggressive action by government regulators. In the past, regulators often relied on automakers to report defects to them. They are now apparently taking a tougher stance. Recently, Fiat Chrysler was hit with multiple penalties totaling $105 million for a series of safety problems including Jeep gas tanks that have been linked to numerous deadly fires.

When an automobile design defect results in death or serious injury, the automaker, component part manufacturer or both can be held accountable in a product liability lawsuit. The victim or victim's family must prove the vehicle or part in question was unreasonably dangerous when put to its intended use. The manufacturer can be liable for damages if the defect was a substantial factor in causing the accident to occur, or if it caused enhanced injuries in the crash. This latter type of lawsuit is sometimes called a "second collision" case, because it focuses on the occupant's collision with the interior of the vehicle when the crash occurs.

Product liability suits against automobile manufacturers are complex. They require expert testimony from design experts and accident reconstructionists. An individual considering such a lawsuit may wish to consult a law firm that has experience in this area.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Surge in U.S. Car Recalls Continues," Mike Spector & Tom McGinty, Aug. 6, 2015

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