In general, when driving your car you expect to have complete control over the vehicle. You expect the lights to turn on when you hit the switch, the wheel to turn the direction you choose, and the pedals to work properly. However, this is not always what happens as vehicles can, and do, come on the market with defects. One of the more frightening defects a car can have is a faulty accelerator. If you cannot slow your car down it could lead to deadly consequences for you, everyone in your car, and those on the road around you. Unfortunately, a few years ago, a number of Lexus and Toyota vehicles were put on the market with these kinds of defects.
Tragic Consequences, Criminal Convictions, And Staggering Fines
Mark Saylor was taking his daughter to a soccer activity in a Lexus ES350 when everything went wrong. He, his wife, his brother-in-law, and his daughter were all riding in the vehicle that Saylor had gotten from the Lexus dealer to drive while his car was in the shop for servicing. The accelerator in the car became "stuck on an incompatible floor mat." The car accelerated significantly, going over 100 miles per hour. Witnesses to the accident stated that they "noticed the car was having trouble, moving slowly on the shoulder and then accelerating to a "white blur" as it sped toward Mission Gorge Road." The speeding car crashed into a Ford Explorer at an intersection and "then went airborne into an embankment, spraying auto parts into a debris field 80 feet in diameter." All four of the vehicles occupants were killed.
The floor mats in the car were made for another vehicle, a Lexus RX 400. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the dealership employee was notified three days prior to the tragic incident that the vehicle had acceleration issues. Another customer had told the receptionist "that the vehicle had accelerated to 80 to 85 mph when the gas pedal had become jammed by the rubber floor mat." The receptionist stated she had passed the information along, but the person she stated she told had no recollection of the message. Relatives of those killed in the crash filed a lawsuit against the dealer and Toyota. Toyota settled the case in 2010 and the dealership in 2015.
This is not the only tragedy that was caused by the faulty accelerators and floor mats in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. In 2011, USA Today reported that the defective parts have been linked to a number of deaths. Toyota eventually recalled some 8 million vehicles because of the two defect issues. But the defects were not only injuring and killing people, it was causing innocent people to go to jail, like Koua Fong Lee. He was charged and convicted of criminal vehicular homicide after his Toyota Camry crashed into another car. Three of the occupants died as a result of their injuries. Lee had stated that "he pressed the Camry's brakes repeatedly but the car would not stop." His "attorneys maintain the accident was caused by unintended acceleration." He served two years in prison before a judge ordered that he be released and given a new trial. Prosecutors declined to try him again, however. Lee later filed a lawsuit against Toyota.
In addition to the numerous lawsuits that Toyota has dealt because of the faulty accelerator and floor mats, the company has faced a number of federal fines. The company paid nearly $50 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and agreed to pay the Justice Department "$1.2 billion to avoid prosecution for covering up severe safety problems with 'unintended acceleration,' according to court documents, and continuing to make cars with parts the FBI said Toyota 'knew were deadly.'"
Other companies have also had issues with their cars accelerating unintentionally. According to USA Today, Ford, Audi, Jeep, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Kia have all had problems with unintended acceleration over the years.
If a company creates a faulty product and that product injures someone, the company can be held liable for the damages its defective product caused. The area of law that deals with defective products is called products liability. There are three legal theories that are often used to determine liability in these types of cases: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.
There are different things that you have to prove depending on what theory is chosen. For example, under negligence, a plaintiff has to prove fault on the part of the manufacturer. This is not a requirement of strict liability. Instead, under strict liability you just have to show that the manufacturer put the defective product on the market. What theory is best in your case will largely depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.
When pursuing a theory of negligence or strict liability, there are three kinds of defects that are typically alleged: a manufacturing defect, a design defect, or a failure to provide proper warnings. A manufacturing defect is fairly self-explanatory -- something happens in the manufacturing process that causes the product to become dangerous. A design defect means that even if the product is made to the proper specifications, it is still inherently dangerous because there is some flaw in the design. Finally, a failure to provide proper warnings can mean that there were no warnings on the product about some hidden danger that the consumer needs to be aware of or that instructions are needed to make sure the consumer is not injured while using the product. It can also mean that there were inadequate instructions given.
The final theory that is used in products liability cases is a breach of warranty. Warranties can be express of implied. An express warranty is "created by the overt words or actions of the seller." Black's Law Dictionary 1725 (9th ed. 2009). An implied warranty is "an obligation imposed by the law when there has been no representation or promise." The two implied warranties usually applicable in these types of cases are the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.
Contact A Denver Products Liability Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured because of a defective product, you can seek compensation for your injuries from the company that created that product. Contact the Law Office of Jeremy Rosenthal today for a free case evaluation. Jeremy has been a personal injury attorney in Colorado for over a decade. He has represented clients in all types of personal injury cases, including products liability cases. Let his experience and knowledge work for you. Call his office today at (303) 825-2223 or click here to fill out the online form.