Braking Bad: Liability Issues with Vehicle Braking Systems in Pennsylvania

Vehicle braking systems have come a long way in recent years. Modern cars are equipped with advanced technologies like anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and automatic emergency braking. While these systems are designed to improve safety, they also introduce new liability concerns when accidents occur. This article examines some of the key legal issues around braking system liability in Pennsylvania.

Product Liability Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania follows strict product liability laws for claims against vehicle and component manufacturers. This means plaintiffs do not need to prove negligence – only that a product was defective or unreasonably dangerous, leading to injury. Defects can be in design, manufacturing, or failure to provide adequate warnings.

For braking systems, potential defects might include:

  • Faulty design or algorithms leading to inappropriate braking
  • Manufacturing flaws causing premature wear or failure
  • Insufficient warnings about braking limitations in certain conditions

Manufacturers can be held liable even if they exercised reasonable care in designing and making the product. Plaintiffs only need to show that the product was defective and caused their injuries.

Proving Braking System Defects

The most challenging part of pursuing a braking system defect claim is proving the system was actually defective. Modern braking components are complex, so expert testimony is usually required to identify issues. Some examples of potential evidence for braking defects include:

  • Examination of the vehicle’s braking system components after the crash to identify any mechanical failures or abnormalities.
  • Review of the vehicle’s computer modules and software code to uncover any flaws in the braking algorithms or calibrations.
  • Analysis of pre-crash data from the vehicle’s event data recorder, if available. This “black box” data provides insights into system functioning.
  • Discovery of similar incidents involving the same make/model vehicle to establish a pattern of braking issues.

Thorough investigation and expertise are vital since braking systems can fail for multiple reasons unrelated to product defects. Drivers often allege false defects to evade responsibility. Securing qualified and reputable expert witnesses is essential to proving braking system issues. The defense will work aggressively to discredit less stellar experts.

Plaintiffs should identify experts from a variety of fields, including automotive engineering, software design, accident reconstruction, and human factors. A multidisciplinary approach strengthens the evidence and provides overlapping perspectives on the braking system’s performance. No stone should be left unturned in gathering data, documentation, and testimony to convincingly pinpoint the defect.

Overcoming Affirmative Defenses

Even with proof of a defective braking system, manufacturers may raise affirmative defenses to avoid liability. Common defenses in these cases include:

Misuse or Alteration of the Vehicle

The vehicle owner’s improper handling, tampering, or unauthorized modifications can alter braking function and cause manufacturers to disclaim liability. However, plaintiffs may argue foreseeable owner behaviors do not absolve manufacturers of accounting for safety.

No Duty to Incorporate State-of-the-Art Features

Manufacturers say they cannot be liable for not including the latest braking technologies in a vehicle. But plaintiffs can counter that certain features had become standard in the industry, and their omission constitutes a defect.

Federal Preemption of State Laws

Manufacturers may claim federal vehicle safety standards preempt and override state product liability laws. Plaintiffs can argue federal laws set a regulatory “floor” rather than a ceiling, and state tort remedies still apply. Preemption often comes down to judicial interpretation.

To counter affirmative defenses, attorneys must understand the vehicle and braking system thoroughly to rebut arguments of alteration or misuse. They should also closely track government regulations and case law on preemption while emphasizing the state’s strong interest in protecting its citizens.

Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Pennsylvania follows comparative negligence principles, so a plaintiff’s own negligence reduces their damage award proportional to their fault. Contributory negligence by the plaintiff can be a major hurdle in recovering compensation. Savvy defense lawyers will scrutinize the driver’s pre-crash actions and look for evidence of speeding, distraction, intoxication, or other negligent behaviors.

Plaintiff attorneys must convincingly deflect culpability back toward the defective braking system. They will need to gather driver background, training, and credentials to cast them as reasonably prudent. Evidence like maintenance records and lack of prior moving violations help establish the driver acted appropriately. Any potential chemical impairment should be preemptively tested for and ruled out.

Pennsylvania’s Limited Tort Option

Pennsylvania’s auto insurance system allows motorists to opt for limited tort coverage, which bans them from seeking pain and suffering damages after an accident unless they suffer serious impairment. With limited tort, plaintiffs are often blocked from pursuing product liability claims against vehicle manufacturers. Attorneys get around this barrier by arguing the defective braking system caused permanent serious disfigurement – one of the few exceptions allowing pain and suffering recovery under limited tort.

The limited tort obstacle highlights the importance of thoroughly documenting injuries. Medical records must prove serious impairment exists. Plaintiffs should be examined by independent medical experts rather than just treating physicians to substantiate their injuries. Demonstrable effects on daily living, supported by testimony from family, coworkers, etc. also help establish grave impact.

Navigating the Statute of Limitations

In addition to proving a defect and overcoming defenses, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania brake defect cases must comply with the statute of limitations. For product liability claims, plaintiffs have two years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit against the liable parties.

It is critical that victims contact an attorney immediately after an accident to get the clock ticking on an investigation. Evidence can disappear quickly, so launching an inquiry early maximizes the chances of proving a defect. Since manufacturers typically blame drivers for crashes, plaintiffs must act fast to absolve themselves of fault and pin responsibility on the braking system.

Modern vehicle braking systems offer many safety advantages, but they also carry risks of product liability when accidents result. In Pennsylvania, pursuing compensation for injuries involving faulty braking requires credible proof of a defect, solid expertise, shrewd legal tactics, and artful maneuvers around affirmative defenses and tort restrictions.

If you or a loved one suffered harm due to a braking system failure that was not your fault, contact our experienced Pennsylvania vehicle defect attorneys at Monge & Associates for a free case evaluation on (888) 477-0597.

We have offices in 32 locations in 19 states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Washington, and we have the resources and determination to stand up to powerful manufacturers and demand justice on your behalf.