How Does an Auto Recall Affect My Right to Sue?

If you own a car that has been recalled, you should get your car repaired as quickly as possible. The longer you keep your car without attending to the recall, the more responsibility for an accident shifts from the manufacturer of the defective part to you. Consider these scenarios:

  • Tom Driver gets a recall notice from his manufacturer, alerting him that his electronic gearshift might slip from park into another gear without warning. He calls his dealer and takes the next available appointment, five days out, to get the car fixed. For the next three days, he drives his car sparingly, makes an extra visual check of the gearshift and applies his emergency brake when parking. On the fourth day, he is warming up his car in the driveway when he notices he left his phone inside the house. Without thinking, he shifts into park, shuts off the engine and gets out of his car. As the car rolls down the driveway, Tom tries to reach into the driver’s side and set the emergency brake. He’s knocked down, and one of the tires rolls over his foot, crushing it.
  • Max Motorist has the same make and model of car, and gets the same manufacturer’s recall notice. Max ignores that notice, as well as the one he gets from the dealer a week later. After several weeks of driving his car, Max comes across a story of a driver who was crushed and killed when the same make and model of car slipped out of gear and rolled forward, pinning him against a garage. Max calls his dealer to make an appointment, but instead of booking a spot for the next day, he chooses a more convenient date three weeks in the future. Two weeks later, Max pulls into his driveway, puts his car in neutral and gets out to retrieve the mail. As his car goes into reverse, Max tries to stop it and, like Tom, is seriously injured.

The manufacturer built the defect into the car and the defect directly caused both accidents, so both Tom and Max can sue for damages. But because Tom and Max behaved so differently after getting notice of the recall, they face different levels of contributory (or comparative) negligence. New Jersey’s comparative negligence law enforces the notion that everyone must behave reasonably for their own safety. If not, they are at least partially to blame when something goes wrong.

Both Tom and Max knew about the defect and chose to drive their cars. A jury might find that Tom was reasonable because he took the earliest possible appointment for repairs and drove sparingly. Still, he might have to bear some responsibility for his losses. On the other hand, a jury could find that Max was unreasonable because he ignored several warnings and even after hearing about a death due to the problem, he was lax in getting his car repaired. Under New Jersey law, if a jury thinks Max is more than 50 percent responsible for his own injury, he can’t recover damages from the manufacturer.

It’s also worth noting that an owner who ignores a recall could be held partially responsible for injuries to other people if the defective part causes an auto accident. The moral of the story is simple: Get your car fixed! But should you be injured in an accident before that can happen, consult an experienced auto accident attorney who understands products liability and comparative fault.

Seigel Law represents victims of defective auto parts and other consumer products in Bergen County and throughout New Jersey. Contact us online or call 201-444-4000 today for a free case evaluation.

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