On September 7, 2016, in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, a mother and her infant child miraculously escaped injuries after the brakes in her pick-up truck failed, causing her to slam into three cars stopped at a red light. The mother and infant did not have any visible injuries, although these kinds of accidents could still cause concussive injuries that are difficult to ascertain until much later. In this case, both the individual driving the pick-up truck and the motorists who were hit due to the brake failure can bring a products liability claim against the manufacturer of the motor vehicle for the defective braking system.
Product liability claims can be brought against both the person who sold the defective product, such as a car dealership, and the company that manufactured the defective product. There are five elements that an injured party needs to show in order to prevail on a products liability claim against a merchant. First, they must establish that the defendant is a merchant, meaning that the individual or company is in the business of selling a particular good. In products liability claims that arise out of a manufacturing or design defect of a car, the dealer is “any person or business, who in the ordinary course of its business, sells or leases new motor vehicles to consumers” and manufacturers are “any person or business engaged in the business of manufacturing or assembling new motor vehicles.” As such, there aren’t usually products liability claims against individuals who sold their defective used car because they are not regularly in the business of selling or manufacturing motor vehicles. The second and third elements the injured party must show are that they have either bought or leased from the merchant and that they used the product the way it was supposed to be used. Then they need to demonstrate that there was a defect in the product, either in its design or the way in which it was manufactured, and that this resulted in some type of injury. Usually, lawyers will have experts to testify to whether a product was designed or manufactured defectively because ordinary people cannot make that determination.
In Massachusetts, there are three principal theories in which an injured party can bring a products liability claim against a merchant: (1) breach of implied warranty of merchantability, (2) negligence, and (3) Chapter 93A. According to Massachusetts law, all goods for sale, including motor vehicles, have implied warranty of merchantability. This means that it will work the way it was promised to work. In the cases of cars and trucks, that means that the car will function in the manner in which it was intended, including braking when the driver applies the brakes. In addition to claiming breach of warranty of liability, the injured party can claim the manufacturer was negligent and violated Chapter 93(A). Negligence claims in product liability cases are more challenging because the injured party has to show that the product was unreasonably dangerous and that the defendant was unreasonable in bringing this product to the market. Lastly, with a design or manufacturing defect under the theory of breach of implied warranty of liability, the injured party can state that the merchant violated Massachusetts law Chapter 93A. Usually a judge will determine whether a Chapter 93A violation occurred after a jury awards an injured party. In cases where the judge finds a Chapter 93A violation occurred, the injured party can get double or treble damages. However, it is difficult to persuade judges to impose such punitive damages.
Thankfully, the mother and infant in this case escaped noticeable injuries. However, they could still possibly bring a products liability claim against the manufacturer and the dealer of the pick-up truck because the brake failure could have caused emotional injuries and property damage. At a minimum, this may require them to buy a new car.