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Strict liability and automobile product liability cases

Last week this blog discussed the tragic case of an actor who lost his life due to a vehicle defect. His parents are now pursuing a products liability lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer with regards to their son's death. Illinois readers may wonder whether automobile vehicle defect lawsuits differ from personal injury lawsuits in general.

Actually, there is one difference between an ordinary personal injury lawsuit and a products liability lawsuit for defective automobiles. Unlike in a personal injury lawsuit where a person alleges that the other party was negligent, to hold an automobile manufacturer liable for a defect, it is not necessary to prove carelessness. Instead, automobile defect cases follow a doctrine that is known as "strict liability." This means that, if three conditions are met, a strict liability claim can be pursued even without showing the automobile manufacturer was careless. Let's explore these three factors further.

The first factor that must be met is that the automobile at issue or a part of that automobile must have had a defect that was "unreasonably dangerous" and caused one's injury. There are several phases of production in which an unreasonably dangerous defect can turn up, including during the design process, the manufacturing process and when the automobile is delivered.

The second factor that must be met is that the automobile defect at issue actually caused the victim's injury while it was being used in the intended fashion. If the victim was injured by a defect, but was not operating the automobile in the manner in which it was intended to be operated, this factor may not be met.

The third factor is that the automobile in question must not have been changed in a substantial manner from the form in which it was initially sold. The definition of "substantial" hinges on how the automobile was meant to perform.

This post only provides a general overview of strict liability in automobile defect products liability cases, and cannot promise any specific result in a product liability claim. In fact, applying the law to any individual's specific facts can be complex, and not all cases will qualify for strict liability. Therefore, if an individual harmed by a defective automobile wants to learn more about whether he or she has a strict liability claim, he or she may want to seek legal advice.

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