Car manufacturers have been under fire in recent months, for everything from faulty ignition switches to exploding air bags to malfunctioning accelerators. In fact, 2014 had the most auto industry recalls in history. This indicates firstly there are many problems with vehicle design resulting in injury. Secondly, it tell us regulators are getting better at calling the industry out.
But a mere allegation of product liability is not enough to prove causation. Of course, it is easier if there are a host of prior similar cases, but even then, success isn’t a given. What will be necessary in almost each of these cases is expert witness testimony.
Usually, expert witness testimony isn’t necessary in car accident claims. But every case is different, and when a crash is the result of a dangerous or defective vehicle part, expert witness testimony bolsters the claim of causation and can help a case get passed the summary judgment phase and on to trial.
The imperative nature of expert witness testimony in certain cases became apparent in the recent defective airbag claim made by plaintiffs in Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., et al., before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
According to court records, plaintiffs were involved in a car accident in 2007 while driving a vehicle manufactured by defendant(s). The couple reportedly hit a patch of black ice (this was in Indiana) and even though the vehicle slid off the road and into a wall, none of the vehicle’s airbags deployed. As a result, plaintiffs sustained severe injuries. Husband sustained several broken vertebrae and wife suffered neurological injuries.
It’s necessary to note that one year prior to this, the couple was involved in a different crash and, in that case too, the vehicle’s air bags did not deploy. When they had the vehicle repaired, they did not make sure the restraint control module, which monitors a crash and determines whether airbags need to be deployed, were reset after the repairs. However, plaintiffs explained it was there understanding whatever needed to be reset was reset.
After the second crash, the couple had the vehicle repaired at the same shop as before and then sold the vehicle and the black box data on the vehicle was erased.
The following year, the couple filed an action against the vehicle manufacturer, alleging the vehicle was defective under state law. Defendant removed the action to federal court and then sought summary judgment.Defense asserted without expert testimony, plaintiffs could not prove their injuries were more severe than they would have been had the alleged defect not existed. Plaintiffs countered the circumstantial evidence was sufficient, and no expert witness testimony was necessary.
District court granted the summary judgment motion on grounds plaintiffs had not submitted expert witness testimony necessary for them to create an issue of fact regarding proximate cause.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. Essentially, the only witnesses to the crash plaintiffs presented were themselves. They did not have the information contained in the black box of the vehicle that would have backed their allegations. They did not have any accident reconstructionist or other skilled witness that would have been able to assert the circumstances of the crash should have resulted in the air bags being deployed. Without that, the claim of causation was merely speculative.
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Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., et al., Feb. 11, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Robinson v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth. – Bus Injury Litigated, Jan. 20, 2015, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog