Reis v. Volvo Cars of N. Am.: Car Accidents Caused by Mechanical Problems

Our North Carolina car accident lawyers understand that some car accident cases involve mechanical problems with the vehicle itself in addition to negligence by a driver.

shifter-454052-m.jpgIn Reis v. Volvo Cars of North America, a buyer of a 1987 Volvo station wagon (bought in 2002) was showing his friend the car, according to court papers. He had the hood up, and they were looking at the engine. The car owner asked his friend if he would like to see the engine running. The car, which was a stick shift, jumped forward when it was started, and the owner’s friend was pinned against the wall. The friend lost one of his legs.

Evidence of the case showed that, at the time the vehicle was made, it was a known fact that a manual transmission vehicle could lurch forward when started if it had been left in a forward gear when turned off. It is very common for people with manual transmissions to leave the car in first gear, since you can’t put the car in park.

One of the allegations of negligence in the complaint was that the car manufacturer should have used an ignition interlock or, at the very least, had a warning sticker that explained this particular danger. An ignition interlock would cause the car to stall when started in a gear other than neutral. Other U.S. and Japanese car manufacturers were using this technology in the late 1980s. This is the reason that you need to step on the clutch (put the car in neutral) to start a standard transmission vehicle. This is not the same as an alcohol detection ignition interlock device, such as the ones required by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

One of the important legal questions in this case deals with whether or not one owes a specialized duty of care because he or she possesses specialized training or knowledge about a particular subject matter.

In a normal negligence action, like we typically see in a car accident case, the plaintiff owes a foreseeable person a duty to protect him or her from a foreseeable harm. The question often turns on whether this particular harm was foreseeable.

Under our legal system, the general standard of care requires that the plaintiff act like a reasonable and prudent person. Basically, the plaintiff should act like a normal person with the normal life experiences. However, sometimes a person can possess specialized knowledge about a particular topic. For example, a car owner may have a car with a wheel that is about to fall off and have no idea. If that car owner was a trained auto mechanic, he or she might be able to tell something was wrong with the wheel based on a sound the car was making. If the wheel falls off and injures another person, do we hold this driver to the standard of a normal person with no clue the wheel was about of fall off, or do we hold the driver to the standard of a normal auto mechanic who knew or should have known this wheel could fall off at any time?

This is a complicated issue and the result may not be the same from case to case. You should discuss your particular situation with an attorney who regularly handles car accident cases.

Contact the Carolina car accident lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Reis v. Volvo Cars of N. Am., July 1, 2014, New York Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Dangerous Vehicles, Defective Parts, Can Cause Charlotte Crashes, Feb. 21, 2014, North Carolina Car Accident Lawyers Blog

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