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Traffic accidents have many contributing factors. What many motorists don't know, however, is that the vehicles they operate could play a significant role in their chances of getting hurt. A motorcycle defect, such as an imperfection related to a part, design or system, might jeopardize the lives of riders, their passengers and those around them. Although pursuing legal action may be an option, it's important to understand how these cases work.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a federal government entity with the authority to create and publish vehicle safety standards. These rules are designed to ensure that motorcycles and other vehicles live up to acceptable guidelines that minimize the amount of danger that their operators experience during regular use.
The NHTSA also has the power to force vehicle manufacturers to issue recalls when their products fall short of the standards. These forced recalls can be related to defective safety equipment or features as well as vehicles that fail to meet general safety guidelines. In addition to asking a manufacturer to recall a defective vehicle, the NHTSA can issue a recall based on specific parts, such as motorcycle brakes, helmets or suspension forks.
Manufacturers can also issue their own recalls without being required to do so. These voluntary recalls may be related to complaints received by automakers or internal testing. Some motorcycle brands have been known for the frequency with which they issue product warnings. For instance, in 2017, a Harley Davidson recall pulled around 57,000 vehicles off of the road because their oil systems might leak and soak motorcycles' rear tires with lubricant. Just two years earlier, the company recalled more than 185,000 of its vehicles due to substandard mounting hardware that could cause their saddlebags to detach and result in accidents.
Whether manufacturers recall their vehicles voluntarily or after being ordered to by the government, the process involves several important responsibilities. After determining that a defect is safety-related, automakers have five days to submit reports to the NHTSA detailing the problem and factors that include:
Manufacturers are also responsible for remedying defects without charge to the consumer. Companies and their affiliated dealers can satisfy this obligation in various ways, such as repairing or replacing the motorcycle in question. They can also offer a refund or replace the part.
One of the most important aspects of vehicle defect law is that it holds manufacturers responsible for notifying owners that defects exist. These notifications typically take the form of letters that must incorporate information such as:
Since August 2014, the NHTSA has also maintained stricter requirements for manufacturers that produce more than 5,000 bikes per year. These companies must allow customers to find out whether their vehicles are subject to open recalls by using their VINs. Even though consumers are entitled to receive notifications of existing problems, the way the system operates means that riders don't always get warnings in time to prevent injuries.
For instance, consider the December 2013 recall of Harley-Davidson Hybrid Classic Cruiser Half motorcycle helmets. Although the manufacturer, KBC America Inc, attempted to protect consumers from the fact that the safety gear didn't meet penetration and impact requirements, it issued the recall more than two years after it produced the problematic models. This case goes to show that even though consumers are supposed to receive notifications, factors like the time between a purchase and the discovery of a flaw can make it harder to stay aware.
Some defects aren't considered to be safety related, such as cosmetic problems, rust and substandard fuel economy. Motorists who get into accidents may have difficulty building cases and proving that these types of issues contributed to their losses.
Motorcycle companies may argue that they did everything in their power to stop riders from getting injured. Some might also claim that notifying certain consumers would have represented an unreasonable burden. For instance, a motorist who bought a used helmet from a third-party dealer or second-hand shop may run into more difficulty pursuing a liability claim for an injury because the manufacturer never had a record of the purchase.
This doesn't mean that riders lack options for navigating recalls. For instance, recalls.gov and safercar.gov let people search for their motorcycles and specific parts to determine whether they pose risks. Many states also have consumer protection lemon laws that provide remedies for people who purchase vehicles with significant defects. These rules may not cover smaller motorcycles, and they typically exclude all but new purchases.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified motorcycle accident lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local motorcycle accident attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.