In South Carolina, car accident liability is generally based on the legal doctrine of negligence. Essentially, the party that is deemed to be responsible for causing an accident will be held legally liable for the resulting damages. In the vast majority of cases, the liable party will be a driver. In fact, according to the 2014 National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, driver error was the primary factor in more than 90 percent of all car accidents. That means that approximately 10 percent of accidents have other causes. This is certainly not an insignificant figure considering how frequently car accidents occur each year. In some of the other cases, it is a manufacturer who bears liability for the damages as opposed to the driver of the vehicle. Manufacturer liability cases are especially complex. That being said, if your car accident injuries were sustained because of a defective product, you must hold the responsible manufacturer fully accountable.
Understanding the Basics of Products Liability
In South Carolina, all companies have a legal obligation to ensure that their products are reasonably safe for consumers. Companies, particularly automakers and car part manufacturers, must take proactive steps to ensure that no defective parts are put on the market. In the unfortunate event that a company fails to live up to their obligation to provide safe products, they can be held liable for any resulting damages. This is done by bringing a products liability claim against the company. In general, these claims fit into one of three different categories:
- Defective designs: First, companies must use a reasonably safe product design. If a product has a defective design, many consumers are placed at risk. Defective design claims seek to establish that a whole line of products is unreasonably hazardous, and therefore should never have been on the market in the first place.
- Manufacturing defects: Beyond designing a safe product, companies must also ensure that each individual unit of a product is free from any safety defects. In a manufacturing defect claim, victims seek to prove that they were injured due to a problem with the specific unit of the product that they received.
- Labelling defects: Finally, companies must also provide adequate safety warnings when marketing their products. If a company fails to fairly warn consumers, or if they create dangerous false expectations in the minds of consumers, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries.
Car Accidents and Manufacturer Liability: A Review of Recent Controversies
Over the last few years, there has been a major recall of airbags produced by the manufacturer ‘Takata’. This occurred after a flaw was discovered within the design of the airbag. Essentially, the problem caused the airbag propellant to burn off too quickly. While this is a very technical problem, the effect was devastating for some consumers. After relatively minor collisions took place, these airbags sometimes would explode. The explosions sent very sharp metal pieces directly at the occupants of the vehicle, leading to some very serious injuries. Injuries from the defective airbags included: deep lacerations, severe burns, eye damage, disfigurement, and even death. In fact, Reuters has reported that at least 10 fatalities have already been linked to the defective Takata airbags. Overall, Consumer Reports has found that more than 34 million vehicles around the country have been affected by this recall. To put this number into perspective, that means that more than 14 percent of all vehicles in the United States had a potentially defective airbag. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already levied a $200 million penalty against the company for their role in creating the safety risk. Ultimately, victims of these defective airbags must be able to recover compensation for the full extent of their damages.
Not all manufacturing defects occur within the car itself. For example, another major manufacturer liability case that has made news in recent years involves guardrails. According to reports, guardrails manufactured by the company ‘Trinity Industries’ have been responsible for making minor and moderate accidents much worse. These defective guardrails have linked to several serious injuries and even three fatalities across the county. Last year, The New York Times reported that a federal judge issued a nearly $700 million judgment against the manufacturing company. This issue has also hit the state of South Carolina. Live5News, Charleston’s NBC affiliate, has reported extensively about the problem. According to their reporting, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDoT) believes that many of these guardrails may still be up around the state. It is clear that these guardrails are defective and any affected victims need to take immediate legal action.
Finally, there is a new controversy beginning to arise surrounding the safety of Tesla vehicles, more specifically, Tesla’s autopilot mode. Autopilot mode is a semi-autonomous feature that has been widely credited as both extremely innovative and a forerunner to fully self-driving cars. However, earlier this year, a fatal accident that took place in north Florida was linked to Tesla’s autopilot. In July, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary investigatory report on the accident. The report suggested that the autopilot mode failed to recognize the presence of a large commercial truck and therefore failed to correct the vehicle in order to prevent an accident. Thus far, Tesla has denied any responsibility (or liability) for this accident or any similar future accidents. In fact, they believe that their product is working correctly. However, serious questions have been raised over whether or not the company created a false impression in the minds of consumers. This may lead to a products liability claim on the grounds of a labelling defect. Even if the product worked ‘properly’ in the eyes of the company, the company can still be held liable for an accident if courts believe that they misled consumers and created an unreasonably dangerous situation.
Were You Injured in a South Carolina Car Accident?
At the Elrod Pope Law Firm, our Rock Hill car accident lawyers can help you hold manufacturers liable for their negligence. If you believe that your car accident injury was caused in part by a defective product, please do not hesitate to contact our team today. We offer no-fee, no-obligation case evaluations to all car accident victims.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.