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Know Your Rights Regarding Auto Defects, Repairs and Lawsuits

Auto Repair Defect and Repair Laws For Orlando Drivers

Even with the greatest of care, our vehicles are not built to last forever. Vehicle defects, repairs and manufacturer recalls can arise. Being aware of your car’s condition and regularly checking for recalls on your vehicle is important. According to Carfax, more than 3 million vehicles in Florida have at least one unfixed safety hazard. In the event that a defect has been identified, either the manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may recall the vehicle.

Some states require the dealership notify vehicle owners of a recall, while others do not. For more information about the laws in your area contact one of our Orlando car accident injury lawyers.  If you receive such notification, you should immediately bring your vehicle in for replacement or repair. Typically, this is done free of charge by the dealership. Though many manufacturers notify car owners of a vehicle defect, there are many consumers who never receive notice of pending recalls. Vehicle owners who are not notified must rely on the NHTSA, where all pending recalls can be tracked on its website.

The Federal Trade Commission recently filed a lawsuit against a Florida-based auto warranty firm. In this suit, the FTC stated that the company’s deceptive practices resulted in customers spending about $6 million on supposed bumper-to-bumper warranties that did not come from the manufacturer, did not provide coverage of needed repairs, and that the company did not sell legally.

Additionally, the suit alleges that the company—AVP—contacted consumers by telephone who are on the national Do Not Call registry and falsely promised that consumers could purchase a full warranty for less than $3,400 and receive a full refund within 30 days if they were unhappy with the plan.

While this newest claim is startling, phony warranties bilking consumers is nothing new. A decade ago, the owners of U.S. Fidelis—also known as National Auto Warranty Services, Inc., and several others—pled guilty to criminal charges, including theft, fraud, and other violations. These violations caused harm to consumers. The liable parties received prison sentences after the company received 1,100 complaints in 36 months from customers from the Do Not Call list who were told it offered warranties affiliated with their vehicle’s manufacturer.

These are just two of the countless cases against manufacturers and other companies allegedly in the business to help and protect consumers.

When it comes to auto defects, repairs, and lawsuits against unscrupulous companies, it helps to know your rights.

All cars sold in the U.S. should be able to keep drivers and passengers safe in the event of a collision, using in-vehicle safety systems. This is known as being “crashworthy.” As a general rule, if you are involved in an automobile accident where a vehicle defect is to blame for a serious injury or death you can file a lawsuit against ALL of the parties involved in the chain of distribution (i.e. – the path the product takes from manufacture to distribution to customers).

For example, if you were involved in a car accident and seriously injured by the vehicle’s defective airbag, you can bring a defective liability claim against both the vehicle manufacturer and the manufacturer of the airbag as well as any additional participants in the chain of distribution (i.e. – the retailer, wholesaler or distributor, etc.) It is important to remember that there may be more than one potential defendant within each of these categories.

Unlike other personal injury / auto accident claims, you do not need to prove that your car manufacturer was careless or negligent. The strict liability legal standard allows you to make a claim without proving your manufacturer’s carelessness, but only if the following conditions exist:

  • Your vehicle or a part of it had an “unreasonably dangerous” defect that injured you;
  • The defect occurred while the vehicle was being used as intended;
  • The vehicle was in nearly the same condition as it was when purchased.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists the following most-common reasons as to why a vehicle is recalled:

  • Weaknesses within a vehicle’s body or frame
  • Airbags that deploy late, not at all or with excessive force
  • Wheels that crack or break
  • Faulty brake system
  • Electrical system issues
  • Trouble with the engine assembly
  • Fuel system problems
  • Steering and suspension difficulty
  • Slipping transmission

Car accidents happen, but your vehicle should be equipped with basic safety features designed to keep you safe in the event of a crash, such as seat belts, sound airbags and durable frames.

Cars that fail to work correctly, despite repeated repairs, are known as “lemons.” Lemons typically have a defect of some kind that significantly affects the owner’s ability to properly operate the car. Florida’s automobile Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, known as the “Lemon Law,” has created arbitration boards throughout the state to hear and resolve complaints between car owners and manufacturers. If you are a vehicle owner who has either purchased or leased a defective automobile, Florida’s lemon law offers you legal recourse and you may be entitled to a full refund or replacement of your vehicle. Your vehicle is eligible under the Florida Lemon Law for only the first 24 months after purchase.

The Manufacturer’s, Distributor’s, and Dealer’s Responsibility

Everyone in the vehicle manufacturing chain—including the manufacturer, distributor, and even the retail car dealer—is responsible for ensuring that a consumer has purchased a reasonably safe vehicle when used according to the instruction manual and state and local traffic laws. If the vehicle or its parts fail to work correctly or present a potential safety issue due to the defect, it must be repaired or replaced.

Three defects are under the manufacturer’s control:

  1. Design defects occur in product engineering. These defects affect all of the products manufactured using the defective design.
  2. Manufacturing defects, which often involve a single lot or group of automobile parts.
  3. Packaging defects, which involve the failure of the manufacturer to warn customers on the packaging label or in the owner’s instruction manual of the proper way to use the product or the known risks of using it.

The manufacturers of automobiles and auto parts must meet minimum federal safety standards with their products to sell them to consumers. Suppose the car fails to meet these standards, or the vehicle defect presents an unreasonable risk to drivers and passengers. Then, the manufacturer must repair or replace the defect at no charge to the vehicle owner and provide the owner with instructions on obtaining their repair or replacement.

Recalls

One way of handling auto defects that impact the vehicle’s safety is through the recall process. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains that a recall is issued when the administration determines that a vehicle, vehicle part, equipment, car seat, or tire fails to meet minimum safety standards or creates an unreasonable safety risk. While the NHTSA can issue a recall on a product, recalls are generally voluntarily given by the manufacturer.

The steps to the recall process are:

  • A consumer files a complaint with the NHTSA about a product defect. The complaint enters a database with identifying information removed. If the agency receives similar complaints about the product from several other consumers, they can decide to open an investigation. NHTSA can open an investigation if a petition calls for one. NHTSA can approve or deny a petition but the Federal Register must publish the decision.
  • When the NHTSA opens an investigation, they will look at the safety-related complaints, conduct interviews with the manufacturer, and even with the consumers or their attorneys. After the study, the agency will notify the manufacturer, informing them of its recommendations for making the product safe. If the investigation did not discover safety-related defects, they would inform the manufacturer.
  • Within 60 days of deciding to recall a product, the manufacturer must provide a proper remedy to vehicle owners.
  • As noted, manufacturers voluntarily enter most recalls. NHTSA will manage the recall, ensuring manufacturers file the proper recall notices. Consumers get the appropriate information about having the defect on their vehicle repaired free of charge.

Lemon Law

Most states—including Florida—have lemon laws. They give rights to individuals who purchase or lease a defective new car. If defects substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle and the manufacturer cannot repair it, customers can receive a full refund of the vehicle’s purchase price or a replacement vehicle.

To qualify for a refund or replacement under the lemon law:

  • The consumer must take the vehicle to the manufacturer’s authorized service agent at least three times to repair the vehicle, and the defect remains.
  • The manufacturer or dealer has ten days to repair the defect. If the manufacturer or dealer cannot fix the defect within three attempts or it spends up to 30 days of non-use for shop repairs, the law considers it a lemon.
  • Once the car is designated a lemon, the consumer must file a complaint with the manufacturer’s state-certified informal dispute resolution program. If the dispute does not resolve within 40 days, the consumer may apply to the Florida Attorney General’s Office to have the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board decide the dispute.
  • The available remedies of refund or replacement of the vehicle both offer payment for collateral charges, which are expenses incurred due to the vehicle’s purchase, such as finance charges, cash down payments, and net trade-in allowances. The choice of refund or replacement is generally the consumer’s to make.

Third-Party Warranty Companies

You probably received robocalls or spam emails stating that your vehicle’s warranty expired. These communications are often from companies that give the illusion of affiliation with your vehicle’s manufacturer. However, these companies rarely have any connection to a vehicle manufacturer, and they often are not in business for very long.

As explained by the Federal Trade Commission, if you respond to the communication, the companies may pressure you to provide personal financial information and a down payment before even receiving details on the service contract.

If a third-party warranty company has scammed you, report the company to your car dealer, the state attorney general’s office, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Understanding Your Warranty and Auto Service Contracts

Many people believe that warranties and auto service contracts are the same thing. The auto warranty is a contract for the manufacturer or their authorized service agent to fix certain malfunctions for an amount of time after the car’s purchase.

The warranty is generally considered in the vehicle’s purchase price. A service contract—often referred to as an extended warranty—is also an agreement to provide certain repairs on the vehicle. Usually, if a vehicle is still under warranty, there is little need for an auto service contract, as the two provide many of the same services.

Consumers should use caution when purchasing an auto service contract, checking the exclusions to the contract. Standard exclusions can limit what the contract provider will pay for towing and rental car expenses. Additionally, if the dealer needs to remove the engine or the problems involve uncovered parts, the consumer may need to pay for labor. Moreover, the service contract may not necessarily fully cover all defective parts.

Some companies that offer auto service contracts will use a depreciation factor when determining the costs they will cover, basing coverage on the vehicle’s mileage.

What Happens if an Auto Defect Results in Injury?

Suppose a defective part on a vehicle results in an accident that causes injury to the driver or other roadway users. In that case, the manufacturer can be found liable for the accident and required through a negotiated settlement or a court decision to compensate the injured parties for the expenses and impacts they experienced due to their injury. This is known as a product liability claim, and it falls under the broad umbrella of personal injury law.

How a Lawyer Can Help You With a Defective Auto Claim?

You need a lawyer to handle your defective auto claim, which may involve strict liability or negligence. Strict liability means that the manufacturer is liable for compensating injuries incurred due to the defect, even if they did not do anything negligent to cause the defect or make a potentially dangerous vehicle or vehicle part available to consumers.

Negligence-based claims require the claimant to prove that the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer knew or had reason to know that the defect existed, that it could cause injuries to consumers, and did not take reasonable actions to mitigate the defect’s hazard.

The most powerful tools a product liability attorney can provide in your defective auto claim are experience with and understanding the complex, applicable laws. An attorney can explore your legal options with you and help you determine the best path to take to obtain compensation for your injuries.

This can involve filing a complaint with NHTSA or the state’s attorney general, representing you in mediation or arbitration involving the lemon law, or even filing a product liability claim to obtain compensation for injuries you received from the defective part.

Proving Liability in a Defective Product Lawsuit

If you seek compensation for injuries resulting from a defective auto part, a cornerstone to having a positive outcome to the claim is the ability to prove that the manufacturer was responsible for the defect.

The elements you must show to prove product liability include:

  • You experienced property damage, injury, or lost a loved one due to an unsafe product.
  • The product had a defect in design, manufacturing, or packaging.
  • The loss or injury you experienced directly resulted from a malfunction caused by the defect.
  • You used the auto part per labeled instructions.

To prove liability, your attorney will rely on:

  • Complaints from other consumers about the defect
  • The instruction manual provided with the vehicle or the defective part
  • Evidence showing that a design defect rendered the vehicle unsafe and that a reasonable and safer alternative to the part was provided
  • Testimony from individuals employed by the manufacturer who can speak to the processes used to manufacture the product
  • Accident investigation reports or reports from an accident investigator or mechanic indicating that the product defect existed and was the likely cause of the accident.

If an auto defect injured you or you need guidance about how to handle a defective or lemon vehicle, an auto justice attorney can help you with a free case evaluation.

Your Orlando Automobile Defect / Product Liability Law Firm

Defective motor vehicles threaten the lives of drivers, passengers and others on the road. If you or a loved one have suffered injury or death as the result of a defective motor vehicle or manufacturing error, it is important that you contact an experienced Orlando Automobile Defect / Product Liability Lawyer immediately. Our experienced team of product liability and accident attorneys can help you obtain compensation for medical bills, future medical treatment, loss of wages, pain and suffering, etc. Feel free to fill out our quick contact form on our website to discuss your legal options in greater detail.

Michael T. Gibson P.A.
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814
Phone: 407-422-4529

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