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Liability of Non-Manufacturing Seller in Automotive Products Liability Cases

Automotive Products Liability Cases – A plaintiff in an automotive products liability case against the manufacturer or seller of a motor vehicle generally has to prove that the vehicle at the time of sale contained a defect that created an unreasonable risk of death, personal injury, or property damage when the vehicle was used for its intended purpose and that the defect caused an accident or similar incident, such as a vehicle fire, that resulted in the damage or loss for which the plaintiff seeks to recover damages. Under traditional legal principles, any party involved in the chain of transactions leading up to the retail sale of the vehicle, including the dealer who sold the car or truck, could be held liable in such a case. Motor vehicle dealers, like any party against whom a legal action is brought, would like to limit their potential liability to matters for which they can be shown to have a direct and undeniable responsibility.

Liability of Non-Manufacturing Seller in Automotive Products Liability Cases

In many automotive products liability cases the involvement of a non-manufacturing seller such as a dealer, while it is a direct part of the commercial sales transaction, is merely peripheral to the real basis of liability in the case, which is the alleged inadequacy in the design of the vehicle, error in the manufacturing of its parts or their assembly into a complete car or truck, or failure to warn the purchaser or operator of a danger inherent in its use that constitutes a vehicle defect for products liability purposes. Any such shortcomings in the vehicle as sold existed when it left the hands of the manufacturer. As a result, a number of states have adopted statutes that excuse a dealer or other non-manufacturing seller from liability in such cases, sometimes contingent upon the dealer identifying the manufacturer if it has not already been identified in the litigation. (It should be noted that there may be cases in which the dealer has had some actual involvement in placing the vehicle in its allegedly defective condition, which presents a different situation than that provided for in such statutes.)


The law of products liability, including automotive products liability law, has evolved in the United States over the course of more than half a century out of the separate legal systems of the individual states rather than out of a single unified body of federal law. As a result, the legal standards governing the liability of non-manufacturing sellers in automotive products liability cases will vary from state to state.


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