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Unlike an ordinary personal injury claim for negligence after a motor vehicle accident, in order to establish a vehicle manufacturer or seller's liability for a vehicle product defect, the plaintiff does not need to show that the manufacturer or seller were careless. Instead, liability in motor vehicle defect cases is controlled by the doctrine of strict liability. Regardless of what steps a manufacturer or dealer says it takes in designing, assembling, or handling a motor vehicle, you can make a strict liability claim based on a motor vehicle defect, without making any showing as to carelessness, if all three of the following conditions exist:
- The vehicle or one of its components had an "unreasonably dangerous" defect that injured you;
- The defect caused an injury while the vehicle was being used in a way that it was intended to be used; and
-The vehicle had not been substantially changed from the condition in which it was originally sold.
Traditionally, vehicle manufacturers have engaged in what is known as a "cost-benefit" analysis when deciding whether to change a potentially defective vehicle design. In this process, the manufacturer will calculate the cost of implementing a design change through vehicle recalls and repairs, and weigh that cost against the potential cost of litigation and settlement after the defect causes injuries. Punitive damages are often awarded in order to add to the potential costs.
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