Auto Accidents Newsletters
The frequency of occurrence of vehicular accidents and various kinds of mechanical breakdowns that cause the disablement of cars and trucks on the streets and roads of the United States necessarily results in an extensive use of tow trucks to assist in the resolution of such situations and the removal of affected vehicles from the scenes of such accidents and breakdowns. The operations of tow trucks, and the variety of risks involved in their use, create a number of unique concerns in the area of motor vehicle insurance.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, commonly known as NHTSA, an agency of the United States Department of Transportation, enacted an initial set of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or FMVSS, in the late 1960s. NHTSA has amended and updated the FMVSS, and has added new standards to the original group of FMVSS since that time. Every new motor vehicle sold in the United States is required to comply with all of the FMVSS that are applicable to that type of vehicle. (Due to differences in the configurations of passenger cars and trucks, certain of the FMVSS are limited in their application to one type of vehicle or the other.) In an automotive products liability case, a legal action in which a plaintiff seeks to recover damages from the manufacturer or seller of a motor vehicle for death, personal injury or property damage caused by an alleged defect in the design or manufacture of the vehicle or by the failure to warn of a danger inherent in its use and operation, the FMVSS sometimes play a role in determining the outcome of the dispute between the parties.
When one person pays to another person an amount due to the second person by a third person, the first person has a right to recover from the third person the amount paid to the second person. This right of payment is called a subrogation. Subrogation is a doctrine of equity. It is the substitution of the first person in the place of the second person, who had a claim upon the third person. When an insurance company pays its insured for a loss under an insurance policy that was caused by a third party, the insurance company acquires the right of subrogation against the third party.
A plaintiff in an automotive products liability action is generally required to prove that a motor vehicle as sold contained a defect in its design, in the way in which it was manufactured or assembled or in the failure to warn of a risk inherent in its operation 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 loss or damage for which the plaintiff seeks to recover damages. Because proof of the existence of such conditions does not involve passing judgment on the conduct of the manufacturer, but merely on the status of the vehicle as sold, the plaintiff in such a case can ordinarily recover only his or her actual damages, which can include economic losses and damages for non-economic losses based on the jury's determination of the dollar value of the pain and suffering resulting from the accident. Sometimes, though, the manufacturer's conduct in dealing with the alleged vehicle defect becomes an issue in the case, and the plaintiff may then attempt to recover punitive damages in addition to the actual damages suffered.
The massive collapse of an interstate highway bridge in Minnesota in 2007 has served as a stark reminder of the problems created by the aging infrastructure in the United States. Numerous less dramatic examples of the consequences of failure to properly maintain and repair highways and associated structures such as bridges and tunnels have led to the bringing of legal actions claiming damages for deaths, personal injuries or property damage caused by such occurrences. Such actions can involve both governmental units and contractors who perform highway repair and maintenance work on behalf of those governmental units.