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If a car owner ignores a recall, can they still collect damages?

We'd like to start today's post with a hypothetical situation:

Car manufacturer A discovers that there is a safety problem with one of its vehicle models. The manufacturer immediately issues a recall on all affected vehicles to make sure no one gets hurt as a result of the dangerous defect. Most people respond to the recall while a few notices go ignored.

Years later, the manufacturer finds out that they are being held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff claims that the defect in the recalled vehicle was responsible for a serious crash that left the plaintiff injured. The plaintiff is seeking thousands of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

The question becomes: Can the plaintiff really collect damages? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.

The answer to the question depends on whether or not the vehicle's owner knew about the recall and chose to ignore it. As you may know, New York is a contributory negligence state. In personal injury cases, parties found to be at-fault may not be able to collect damages after an accident. In the case of the example above, if the car owner knew about the vehicle recall but chose to ignore it, contributory negligence would reduce the amount they could sue for based on how at-fault a judge determined them to be for the accident.

Cases like the one we posed above are not unheard of and present a real problem for insurance companies. An insurance defense lawyer is a beneficial ally in cases like this because they are more adept at determining negligence and helping an insurance company avoid costly settlements they do not have to pay.

Sources: FindLaw, "I Missed the Recall. Can I Still Sue?" Le Trinh, Esq., April 29, 2015

FindLaw, "New York Negligence Laws," Accessed March 11, 2016

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