The past year has been marked by an unusually high number of fatal or serious injury accidents involving vehicles that have been converted into multi-passenger “stretch” limousines and/or party buses. In this article, the defective product and personal injury lawyers at The Doan Law Firm will explainhow the law defines a defective product and then looks at how defective product law could be applied to Injuries occurring in “stretched” vehicles.
In American civil law any product, from a child’s toy to a prescription medication, is considered to be defective if itcauses or contributes to an injury while being used for its intended purpose. A product’s “intended purpose” is usually obvious, as in the “intended purpose” of a toy is to amuse a child or the “intended purpose” of a medicine is to treat an illness. There are, however, times when a product may result in harm to its user. If it can be shown that the product was a factor in the user’s injury and that the product’s manufacturer knew, or should have known, that its product was capable of causing that injury, a court may find the manufacturer liable for damages.
In order to file a defective product lawsuit, you must be able to show that at least one of the following criteria played a role in causing the accident that led to your injury:
The fundamental premise of defective or dangerous product liability is that if a product causes an injury,and if it can be demonstrated that the defect was due to some “breakdown” or “anomaly” in the product’s standard manufacturing process, the manufacturer may be held liable for damages. In many cases, manufacturing defects are isolated events that affect single (or only a few) vehicles. This generalization does not, however, always apply to “stretched” limousines and similar vehicles.
Recall that “stretch” vehicles are modifiedafter they leave the factory and, with only a few exceptions, are essentially “normal-sized” vehicles that are cut in half so that an “extension” can be inserted to increase the number of passengers that can be transported in a single trip. Since such modifications take place at third-party conversion shops, in a legal sense these shops assume the role of manufacturer and may be held liable for damages following an accident.
Unlike a manufacturing defect, a defective design is likely to affect all products that used a particular design “blueprint” or manufacturing process. As an example of defective design, consider the case of the Ford Pinto in the 1970s.
Almost from the time the Pinto entered the market, the Ford Motor Company was the target of lawsuits alleging that the company knew that the design and location of the its fuel could cause the vehicle to catch fire if it was “rear-ended” by another vehicle, but had allowed manufacturing to continue because it would be much cheaper for Ford to pay damages after the occasional lawsuit than to redesign both the Pinto and its assembly lines. The resulting negative publicity essentially killed Pinto sales, causing Ford to discontinue the model in 1980.
Failure to warn is commonly seen in lawsuits involving prescription drugs and, although less often, when products are used in an “unusual” manner. In the case of “stretched” vehicles, a failure by the vehicle’s owner or employees to warn passengers of safety concerns could lead to a personal injury lawsuit following an accident.
With these definitions in mind, let’s turn to who may be held liable for damages when a “stretch limousine” is involved in an accident.
First of all, for the purpose of this article we will define a “stretch limousine” to be any vehicle whose body and chassis has been modified to accommodate at least 8 seated passengersand is driven by a professional driver who holds the appropriate license and/or endorsements to legally operate that type of vehicle.
As mentioned above, there are three circumstances that can result in manufacturer’s liability following a “stretch limo” accident:
In the conversion process, a vehicle often gains several tons in curb weight. If the conversion shop does not replace, at a minimum the vehicle’s suspension, brakes, and drive train with heavy duty systems, the vehicle may become unstable even under the best of operating conditions.
When a vehicle is modified, many of its original safety features (e.g. front and side air bags) are either removed or rendered inoperative. If this is indeed the case, and an accident occurs, the conversion shop may be held liable for damages.
It is the responsibility of the conversion shop to notify the vehicle’s owner of both known and potential safety issues. If the conversion shop fails to provide such information or allows an unsafe vehicle to be delivered to its owner, the shop may be found liable for damages following an accident.
The question of manufacturer’s liability following a “stretch” vehicle accident is much more than academic, since many “stretch” vehicle rental companies have been found to be either under-insured or to have operated without the minimum liability insurance coverage required by state and federal law. If you are injured in an accident while a passenger in an uninsured “stretch” vehicle, the manufacturer may be your only hope of receiving compensation for your losses.
If you, or a family member, suffered an injury while you were a passenger in a “stretched” vehicle, we invite you to contact the ‘stretch limo” accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a nationwide personal injury law practice with offices in major cities across the country, to arrange a review of the facts in your case and a discussion of the legal options that may be available.
When you contact our firm, your initial consultation and case review are always free and do not create an obligation to hiring us as your legal counsel. Should you decide that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are usually willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.
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