Who is Liable If a Recalled Car or Truck Caused the Accident?

Vehicles face recalls all the time. In some cases, recalls are for major mechanical or electrical problems that could lead to devastating incidents. In other cases, recalls are for relatively minor defects or issues with the vehicle. However, what happens if a recalled vehicle gets into an accident? Who would be at fault for the incident, particularly if the recalled issue was the reason for the crash?

Vehicle Recall Basics

Vehicle recalls happen anytime a vehicle manufacturer or a watchdog agency realizes that the vehicle or a part in the vehicle is not safe for consumer use. Typically, the steps involved in a recall of a vehicle include:

  1. The defect identified by the manufacturer or watchdog agency
  2. Investigation to determine whether or not the vehicle is safe for consumers
  3. The vehicle company and government agency publicly announcing a recall and notifying owners
  4. The manufacturer repairing or replacing the vehicle or defective part or reimbursing the vehicle owner for the vehicle

Turning to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, we can see that various recalls occur all the time, including ones for airbags, car seats, braking systems, acceleration systems, lights, steering, and more. Individuals can go to the NHTSA website, put in the VIN number of their vehicle, and see whether or not their vehicle has any recalls currently active.

If the Recall Issue Cases the Crash

In the aftermath of a vehicle crash involving a recalled vehicle, there may be various parties that could be held liable. Let us suppose that the crash occurred as a result of the recall issue. For example, if the vehicle has been recalled for problems with the braking system, and a crash occurs because the braking system failed, There can still be issues of liability involved.

On the surface, it may seem like the car manufacturer or company would be responsible for paying compensation to those injured and those who sustained property damage due to a recalled vehicle failure. But that is not necessarily the case. Even if the manufacturer has admitted that the vehicle does not meet minimum safety standards, and even if a recall has been announced, the vehicle owner could have some liability for the incident.

When a vehicle owner receives a recall notice, they will also receive instructions about how they should respond. Typically, if the recall is over an issue that substantially impacts the safety of a vehicle, the recall notice will tell the owner not to operate the vehicle and to have it towed to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. If a vehicle owner ignores a recall notice and continues to drive the vehicle, or even if they drive the vehicle to the manufacturer themselves, in an accident occurs, this could shift the liability to the vehicle owner because they failed to follow the instructions.

When determining liability after a recall has been issued, there will need to be an investigation into when the vehicle owner received the recall notice, whether or not the notice adequately warned the owner of the danger, and whether the vehicle owner complied with the recall notice.

What About a Crash Before a Recall is Issued?

There are times when crashes occur that revolve around a vehicle’s safety issues before a recall is issued. After all, manufacturers and government agencies often do not know about vehicle problems until there have been several incidents already.
In these cases, an investigation will occur, and the vehicle manufacturer may end up being the liable party who has to pay for injury and property damage expenses.