Monday, May 31, 2004

Automakers subject to personal injury lawsuits

The New York Times reports that at least a dozen lawsuits have been filed against automakers on the grounds that "it made a car it knew it was not safe enough to survive collisions with its other products, namely large pickups and sport utilities." These "compatibility" lawsuits often name the maker who made the smaller car claiming that it was not built to withstand the impact of the large SUV's. Another approach has been to sue the maker of the larger SUV, claiming that the vehicle was designed in a way that was needlessly unsafe.

In New York, I am not aware of any plaintiff's firms that have named an automaker as a defendant in an automobile accident lawsuit. I handle hundreds of automobile cases a month of counsel to other law firms, none named an automaker.

Suing the carmaker provides the benefit of an additional deep pocket to pay claims. However, these compatibility lawsuits can be costly because it would require hiring additional experts to prove the design defect was a cause in the accident. The most likely situation where the automaker would be named as a party is where a passenger has both severe injuries, for example multiple back surgeries, coupled with either poor liability (ie the driver who was injured caused the accident) or a small insurance policy.