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When Mechanical Failure is to Fault

Written by Ankin Law Office

Automobiles have thousands of parts. Each of these parts operate in concert to propel the vehicle down the road. When these parts fail they can make a vehicle unsafe to drive. Brake failures, tire blowouts, malfunctioning wipers, broken lights, and screwy steering systems are responsible for hundreds of thousands of auto accidents each year. These mechanical failures are often caused by one of two reasons: Manufacturer defect, or neglected maintenance.

Mechanical Failures Caused by Manufacturer Defects

Manufacturers are responsible for building vehicles that are safe to drive and meet strict government regulations. That doesn’t always happen. Many times problems with particular parts are not discovered until after a vehicle has left the factory. In 2013, Toyota lost a multitude of lawsuits over the safety of their Camry models. Toyota deliberately outfitted these vehicles with faulty throttle control systems. This made them prone to unintended acceleration. This defect forced Toyota to recall affected vehicles in 2009-2010. Presently, the company is refusing to recall Corollas affected by the same problem.

In 2014, General Motors recalled 800,000 vehicles which had been equipped with faulty ignition switches. These switches could kill the engine while the vehicle was in motion. Sadly, these faulty switches killed 124 drivers and passengers. The faulty switches were installed on approximately 30 million vehicles. This put millions of drivers at risk of death or serious injury from a tiny part that wouldn’t be noticed until it failed.

In what is likely the most well-known example of mechanical failure caused by a manufacturer’s neglect, it was discovered in 2000 that Ford installed faulty Firestone tires on their Ford Explorer vehicles. It’s estimated that these faulty tires coupled with design defects of the Explorer itself caused 250 deaths and nearly 3,000 serious injuries. In most of the more than 400 lawsuits filed against the company, Ford settled with plaintiffs outside of court.

Emerging Concerns to Note

A significant problem has emerged in relation to the computers modern vehicles rely upon. This summer consumers sued Toyota, Ford, and GM over safety problems with the computers within the vehicles. According to plaintiffs relying upon several studies, the computers are easy to hack into. Should a hack take place, a hacker could shut a vehicle down or cause the driver to lose steering control. The results of such an action could be catastrophic as braking and steering systems would become inoperable. This follows the discovery this summer that Jeeps made by Chrysler are also vulnerable to the same hack. In these instances, automakers would be liable for any death or personal injury that resulted from a computer hack tampering with a vehicle’s computer system.

Mechanical Failures Caused By Driver Neglect

Owning a vehicle is a big responsibility. It requires maintaining the vehicle in roadworthy condition so that it is safe to drive. This doesn’t always happen, and many drivers ignore important repairs. Whether the neglect is because they are lazy, or aiming to save a buck, they are liable should an accident occur.

A leading cause of accidents caused by neglected maintenance are brake system failures. It’s estimated that brake failures cause roughly 5% of accidents. On average, nearly 300,000 accidents a year can be attributed to worn brakes and other components within the braking system. Many of these accidents could be avoided if drivers replaced their brake pads and had their vehicle’s braking systems inspected regularly.

Another common cause of accidents are worn tires, underinflated tires, or overinflated tires. In a study conducted by Consumer Reports, they estimated that between 2005-07, underinflated tires increased the likelihood of an accident by 75%. Strikingly, the study also showed that 26% of vehicles involved in accidents had tires worn beyond safe tread depths. By comparison, vehicles whose tires were not “worn out” were involved in less than 2.5% of all crashes. Because of this study, the NHTSA mandated that vehicles manufactured from 2008 forward be equipped with tire sensors to alert drivers to inflation problems.

Understanding Liability & Compensation

In Illinois, vehicle owners are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of their vehicle. Thus, they are responsible even if they are not the person driving the vehicle. When a vehicle is involved in an accident, it is common for accident lawyers in Chicago to request the maintenance record for review. When this happens, it is not uncommon to discover that lapsed maintenance has contributed to an accident. Depending on the circumstances, both the vehicle owner and driver can be held liable for neglected maintenance.

The State of Illinois allows accident victims to seek compensation for the totality of their damages from the at-fault driver. This includes compensation for personal injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, damage to property, and pain and suffering. If an accident is caused by a mechanical failure on another driver’s vehicle, it is important to keep a record of all injuries and expenses.

Categories: Auto Accidents